Raw code for “unbreakable” encryption, based on the principles of quantum physics, has been generated at record speed over optical fiber at the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The work, reported today at the SPIE Defense & Security Symposium in Orlando, Fla.,* is a step toward using conventional high-speed networks such as broadband Internet and local-area networks to transmit ultra-secure video for applications such as surveillance.
The NIST quantum key distribution (QKD) system uses single photons, the smallest particles of light, in different orientations to produce a continuous binary code, or "key," for encrypting information. The rules of quantum mechanics ensure that anyone intercepting the key is detected, thus providing highly secure key exchange. The laboratory system produced this “raw” key at a rate of more than 4 million bits per second (4 million bps) over 1 kilometer (km) of optical fiber, twice the speed of NIST’s previous record, reported just last month.** The system also worked successfully, although more slowly, over 4 km of fiber.
The record speed was achieved with an error rate of only 3.6 percent, considered very low. The next step will be to process the raw key, using NIST-developed methods for correcting errors and increasing privacy, to generate "secret" key at about half the original speed, or about 2 million bps.
Laura Ost | EurekAlert!
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