"Quantum" Internet tested in government lab for two years

A generation 1 quantum smartcard called QKarD. Los Alamos National Laboratory

A more secure Internet is possible, and a government lab has been testing it for over two years.

The MIT Technology Review reports that the Los Alamos National Labs in New Mexico has been testing a so-called "quantum Internet" for two-and-a-half years.

Researchers at the Los Alamos National Labs released a paper called "Network-Centric Quantum Communications with Application to Critical Infrastructure Protection" last week that outlined a way to achieve a more secure Internet connection by using its hub and spokes model. The researchers don't actually use the term "quantum Internet." Instead, what the paper describes is network-centric quantum communications (NQC).

"We described a network that had multiple devices that was able to communicate with a central hub," Los Alamos National Labs chief scientist Richard Hughes told CBSNews.com. The devices can be a computer or server -- and in the future smartphones or tablets.

The ultra-secure Internet works by connecting to a central hub that acts as a filter to a network of clients, like spokes on a wheel. Once data arrives at the hub, it is converted into bits and then converted again into quantum bits that are sent out to computers. Not all computers are required to communicate through the hub, but the computers can send a request for the encryption described by researchers.

Quantum cryptography is more secure because a quantum object is changed once it has been observed, making it impossible for an eavesdropper to go unnoticed.

The hub and spoke technology described by the researchers could greatly improve security by working with the fiber optic connection that we already use.

One example that was used in the MIT Technology Review is that a file can be sent to the hub using "one-time pad," which is widely considered a nearly perfect encryption method. The hub will be able to send a secure re-encrypted file using conventional communications.

Hughes says that this method of quantum cryptography would be an improvement on some of the more popular forms of encryption used today, like public key cryptography, but warns that there are no certainties when it comes to security.

"Nothing is perfectly secure -- not even the one-time pad," Hughes said.

The full abstract can be found at the Cornell University Library online archives at arxiv.org.

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