Optical boffins cut the cost of quantum cryptography

Time shift dances the light fantastic

Security for virtualized datacentres

Boffins at the National Institute of Standards and Technology are trialling advanced optical techniques aimed at reducing the price of quantum cryptography systems.

The new quantum key distribution approach reduces the required number of single photon detectors, which can cost anything between $5K-$20K and are the most costly component of quantum cryptography systems.

Quantum cryptography allows two users on an optical fibre network to exchange secret keys. Each bit of the key is encoded upon a single light particle (or 'photon'). Intercepting this data randomly changes the polarization of the light, irreversibly altering the data.

Because of this quantum mechanics effect any attempt by an eavesdropper to determine a key corrupts the same key with noise. Quantum cryptography systems discard these corrupt keys and only use codes that are known to be secure. These quantum keys, once exchanged, can be used in a one-time pad.

Conventional cryptography setups involve at least two photon detectors, and more commonly four. By adding an optical component that delays the travel of photons to the detector, NIST researchers have been able to halve the number of detectors needed.

The most common polarization-based protocol, BB84, uses four single-photon detectors. One pair of detectors looks for photons with either vertical or horizontal polarization, which signify either 0 or 1. The other set of detectors record diagonally polarized photons.

NIST researchers have reduced the number of detectors required by using an optical component to make these diagonally polarized photons rotate by a further 45 degrees and arrive at the horizontal/vertical detector, but slightly later than photons that started off with this orientation. As such the approach is a type of time division multiplexing.

The same technique was used to number of detectors needed to implement the B92 protocol from two to one.

The approach cuts transmission rates by half but the advantage of lower costs far outweighs this minor disadvantage. The NIST team, led by researcher Xiao Tang, reckon the approach avoids introducing noise and might actually be more secure than conventional approaches.

NIST researchers intend to explain their detection time bin shift (DTBS) scheme in a paper due to be published by the IEEE Communications Letters next month.

In additional research carried out after the publication of this paper, the NIST team has further developed its approach so that the popular BB84 protocol requires only one detector instead of four.

A summary of the research, including diagrams, can be found on the NIST website. ®

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

More from The Register

next story
FYI: OS X Yosemite's Spotlight tells Apple EVERYTHING you're looking for
It's on by default – didn't you read the small print?
Microsoft pulls another dodgy patch
Redmond makes a hash of hashing add-on
NOT OK GOOGLE: Android images can conceal code
It's been fixed, but hordes won't have applied the upgrade
Edward who? GCHQ boss dodges Snowden topic during last speech
UK spies would rather 'walk' than do 'mass surveillance'
DEATH by PowerPoint: Microsoft warns of 0-day attack hidden in slides
Might put out patch in update, might chuck it out sooner
'LulzSec leader Aush0k' found to be naughty boy not worthy of jail
15 months home detention leaves egg on feds' faces as they grab for more power
prev story


Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.