Toshiba Research Europe announces breakthrough in ultra-secure computing

Ultra-secure encryption of sensitive data sent by banks, hospitals and government organisations could be a reality within three to five years, says Toshiba Research Europe.

Ultra-secure encryption of sensitive data sent by banks, hospitals and government organisations could be a reality within three to five years, says Toshiba Research Europe.

A breakthrough by the organisation's Cambridge Lab has cleared the way for the development of communications systems using one-time pad encryption.

The encryption method is considered to be perfect because it uses extremely long encryption keys only once and so cannot be cracked using crypto-analysis.

"Not even quantum computers will be able to crack these keys because they are not based on computational complexity like classic cryptography," said Andrew Shields, assistant managing director at the Cambridge Lab.

Use of this method has been limited to date because of a technical inability to sustain the data transmission speeds it requires for quantum key distribution (QKD).

But the Cambridge Lab says it has overcome these barriers by finding a way of sustaining low error rate and extremely fast transmission speeds indefinitely.

Researchers have developed a light detector capable of reading extremely fast data transmissions of more than one Gigabit per second and a management system to monitor and reduce the error rate.

Variations of just a nanometre in the length of individual fibres in response to changes in ambient temperature can cause a QKD system to fail.

The management system has been designed to monitor the error rates and adjust the fibre lengths to ensure the error rate always remains within acceptable levels.

"These key components have enabled us to achieve and sustain bit rates that are at least 100 times faster than any previous average over a 50km fibre-optic cable," said Shields.

Although there is still work to be done to design systems that use these components, the key obstacles to QKD have been overcome, he told Computer Weekly.

"This means that within three to five years, QKD will no longer be limited to a few top-secret applications but will be used for everyday data transmissions," he added.

Toshiba now plans to install a QKD technology demonstrator at the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT) in Tokyo.

The next challenge would be to put this level of technology into metropolitan network operation, said Toshiba.

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