First quantum-effect products enter commercial IT

A Swiss company has announced the commercial availability of what it says are the first IT products which exploit quantum...

A Swiss company has announced the commercial availability of what it says are the first IT products which exploit quantum effects, rather than conventional physics, to achieve their goals.

Geneva-based id Quantique is focusing on providing an uncrackable cryptography system using a quantum random number generator (RNG) and a quantum key distribution (QKD) system, the company has announced.

Mathematicians over the last 20 years have shown that quantum cryptography is completely unbreakable. Because of the bizarre characteristics of quantum interactions there is no logical way to crack a quantum-encrypted message.

The company's main product is a QKD system, which enables remote parties to exchange a private cryptographic key in absolute secrecy, even if other parties are trying to eavesdrop, the company said. The key is exchanged in the form of a sequence of single photons in an optical fibre. Because of the quantum properties of the photons, eavesdropping inevitably perturbs the communication and so is immediately detected, the company said.

The prototype commercial system consists of two PC-sized boxes at either end of a fibre-optic cable, containing lasers for generating the photons, detectors and cooling devices. It has been successfully tested over a 67-kilometre fibre-optic link between Geneva and Lausanne, Switzerland, with a net key distribution rate over that distance of 60 bps (bits per second). The system can be deployed over existing fibre-optic cables and the distribution rate rises to over 1,000 bps over shorter distances, id Quantique said.

The id Quantique communication system can be connected to a PC through the USB port.

The quantum random number generator can be used to replace standard computer RNGs which are not truly random but are dependent on factors such as the system clock and thus to some extent predictable. The quantum RNG exploits a truly random process - the reflection or the transmission of a single photon when it hits a semi-transparent mirror, id Quantique said. Random numbers are used as seeds for generating cryptographic messages.

Quantum-based computing has the potential to revolutionise many areas of IT, once the extremely difficult task of harnessing quantum effects on a large scale is overcome.

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