By Richard L. Wottrich, CEO and Senior Consultant, International Services, July 29, 2017, Atlanta USA
When the U.S. entered World War I, encryption of Allied communications was a major problem, as their codes were generally based on either European languages or mathematical progressions. The Germans routinely broke their codes. Sending out runners proved ineffective, since about one in four runners were captured or killed. Other methods, such as carrier pigeons, or signal rockets, were slow and unreliable.
During the war, over ten thousand Native Americans enlisted in the U.S. armed forces to fight the Central Powers, even though America had not yet granted them citizenship. Near the end of the war, on October 26, 1918, members of the Choctaw tribe were put to use for the first time using their native language as a code. They played a major role in an attack on a strongly fortified German position, Forest Ferme. “The enemy’s complete surprise is evidence that he could not decipher the messages,” Colonel A.W. Bloor later wrote in an official report.
These so-called “code talkers” were utilized to even greater effect in World War II, when the U.S. government specifically recruited Chippewa-Oneida, Comanche, Hopi, Meskwaki, and Navajo tribal members. The Navajo code talkers developed the most complex code, with over 600 adapted Navajo terms, for use in the Pacific Theater. The Germans did not decipher a single code talker message in either world war. The encryption key (their language) was known to all tribal code talkers, but completely unknowable to the Germans.
Today with Big Data, super computers and complex algorithms, codes can be broken through sheer brute force in ever shorter time periods. What can insure security in encrypted transmissions?
Spooky Action at a Distance
Albert Einstein’s “Spooky Action at a Distance” paradox was first discussed in the early 1930s in his battle with Bohr over the completeness of quantum mechanics. Spooky Action was the result of thought experiments announced in 1935 by its inventors Einstein, Boris Podolsky, and Nathan Rosen.
Spooky Action at a Distance refers to what is today called Entanglement. It’s a phenomenon by which one particle can effectively “know” something about another particle instantaneously, even if those two particles are separated by a great distance.
Tribal code talkers in a sense were similar. They ‘knew’ a common language – the encryption key – hence they could read any message. But suppose you were an observer outside of the tribe (like the Germans were); hence looking in from a distant vantage point. All you could deduce in that case would be that the code talkers were “entangled.”
We are like the Germans, when we act as observers “looking in at a distance” to measure entanglement experiments. The paradox of Spooky Action at a Distance in the world of quantum mechanics is that it seems to violate the axiom that nothing can exceed the speed of light. The paradox is that we do not know how the ‘message’ is transmitted from one particle to another.
Chinese Entanglement Experiment
In July 2017, a Chinese team of scientists, led by Ji-Gang Ren at the University of Science and Technology in Shanghai, fired a laser from a station in Tibet to a satellite 1,400 kilometers above the Earth’s surface. Millions of photon pairs were created. The pairs were then split and sent back to separate receiving stations in Delingha and Lijiang, 1200 kilometers apart. The scientists then entangled a third set of photons and measured the quantum states of the original photon pairs. The scientists found that the photon pairs had opposite polarizations far more often than would be expected by chance, thus confirming spooky action over a record distance.
These results are based on large numbers. The scientists recovered only about one photon out of every six million sent from the satellite — better than ground-based experiments, but still far too few for practical quantum communication. However, when a more reliable quantum entanglement connection is achieved, it would be theoretically unhackable, which means that people could use it to securely transport information. Any attempt to hack either of the entangled photons would be immediately evident to the sender and the receiver.
“This is the first time you have a quantum channel between a satellite and the ground that you can actually use,” said Norbert Lütkenhaus, a professor at the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo in Canada.
Quantum Key Distribution
Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) uses quantum mechanics to guarantee secure communication. Inherent in entanglement is that any two communicating users could detect the presence of any third party trying to gain knowledge of the key. Hence a fundamental aspect of quantum mechanics is that the process of measuring a quantum system in general disturbs the system. A third party trying to eavesdrop on the key will introduce detectable anomalies.
QKD is only used to produce and distribute a key, not to transmit any message data. This key can then be used with any chosen encryption algorithm to encrypt (and decrypt) a message, which can then be transmitted over a standard communication channel.
Quantum cryptographer Artur Ekert, a professor at the University of Oxford and director of the Centre for Quantum Technologies at the National University of Singapore, said, “There is still a way to go before it [QKD] becomes a standard commercial proposition, but we are getting there faster than I expected.”
ID Quantique (IDQ)
It’s later than you think. ID Quantique (IDQ), located in Geneva, Switzerland, has been providing “Quantum-Sate Crypto” since 2001. IDQ was founded as a spin-off of the Group of Applied Physics at the University of Geneva. IDQ is a world leader in quantum crypto solutions, designed for the long term protection of data. IDQ provides quantum network encryption, secure quantum key generation and QKD solutions and services to the financial industry, enterprises and government organizations globally.
IDQ also commercializes a quantum random number generator, which is the reference in the gaming and lottery industries. In the world of quantum research, IDQ is a leading provider of optical instrumentation products including photon counters. IDQ was the first company to bring a QKD system to a commercial market in 2004.
These companies have scores of strategic partners including major banks, governments and multi-national corporations. Quantum crypto solutions are not theoretical any longer, but rather are being integrated into the IT fabric of the world as we contemplate Spooky Action.
Richard L. Wottrich