Study shows how photonic decoys can foil hackers

A University of Toronto professor and researcher has demonstrated for the first time a new technique for safeguarding data transmitted over fiber-optic networks using quantum cryptography.

Professor Hoi-Kwong Lo, a member of the school's Centre for Quantum Information and Quantum Control, is the senior author of a study that sheds light on using what's called a photonic decoy technique for encrypting data.

Quantum cryptography is starting to be used by the military, banks and other organizations that seek to better protect the data on their networks. This sort of cryptography uses photons to carry encryption keys, which is considered safer than protecting data via traditional methods that powerful computers can crack. Quantum cryptography is based on fundamental laws of physics, such that merely observing a quantum object alters it.

Lo's team used modified quantum key distribution equipment from Id Quantique and a 9.3-mile fiber-optic link to demonstrate the use of decoys in data transmissions and to alert receiving computers about which photons were legit and which were phony. The technique is designed to support high key generation rates over long distances.

Lo's study is slated to appear in the Feb. 24 issue of Physical Review Letters.

Lo notes that existing products, such as those from Id Quantique and MagiQ Technologies, are for point-to-point applications used by the military and security-sensitive businesses. "In the long run, one can envision a global quantum cryptographic network, either based on satellite relays or based on quantum repeaters," he says.

University researchers are fueling many advances in network security. A University of Indiana professor recently revealed technology for thwarting phishing and pharming culprits by using a technique called active cookies.

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Network World staff

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