So what can everyone else do to protect their digital messages and data from the potential of quantum hackers?
Simple. “You send the messages in a quantum state,” said Boston University quantum physicist Alexander Sergienko.
Quantum cryptography uses photons to send secret messages between two people. Think of it as a tin-can telephone, wherein a nylon string transmits two people’s voices via tin cans. With quantum cryptography, the string is replaced by a stream of photons — the basic unit of rays of light. So rather than sending email as electronic bits (1s and 0s), the two people send quantum messages using photons with two different physical states.
Due to the foundations of quantum — namely the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle — it’s impossible to copy or intercept these photons without altering them and alerting the message recipient. To return to the tin-can telephone analogy, it’s impossible for an eavesdropper to intercept a quantum message without cutting the string.
“It would be the niche of absolutely secure communication. It means no one could break it. It’ll stay secure for 10, 20, 30 years down the road, unlike many conventional encryption technologies,” Sergienko said. As long as the equipment isn’t flawed, that is.