Have computer hackers met their match? Not quite yet. But new research suggests that so-called quantum computers now in development could lead to data transfer that is "perfectly secure."
Quantum computers may sound like a dream, promising to make massive calculations atblazing speeds, but some experts have dreaded them. To a computer security specialist, the fact that a quantum computer can break encryption codes is exciting, but it's also scary; how are you supposed to keep quantum data safe? A paper published in the latest issue of Science appears to fill this major gap in quantum computers' defenses before any hackers are able to take advantage of it.
Even after quantum computers become advanced enough to be useful, not everyone's going to have their own. There will may be just a few of them in the world, and users will connect with them to use their computational power the same way you might log onto Dropbox to get a file. With so many users on the system, it could be a disaster if someone compromised the security.
It may come as no surprise that the solution to the quantum problem is itself founded in quantum physics. As Stefanie Barz, lead author of the study said, "Quantum physics solves one of the key challenges in distributed computing. It can preserve data privacy when users interact with remote computing centers." The new scheme takes advantage of the fact that, in a quantum mechanical system, one can't observe certain objects without changing them. In the same way, if someone were spying on data you sent to a quantum computer with the new technique, not only would the spy learn nothing, you'd be able to tell that your data had been compromised.
This is has the potential to be much more useful than old-fashioned encryption, which relies on the assumption that your computer can create a code that's too difficult for someone else to crack in a reasonable amount of time. Under the new quantum encryption scheme, it's not just unlikely that someone else will be able to break into your data—it's impossible.