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A few months ago, I wrote a piece about the Chinese government claiming to have mastered and deployed quantum radar- a proclamation that was largely met with skepticism. New reports have surfaced, confirming China has reportedly become the first nation to transmit data over long distances using satellites. Based on “quantum cryptography”, the method is supposedly impossible to hack by any known means, and could help establish the foundation for next-generation encryption. Regardless of whether the reports of China’s quantum radar use are authentic, they’ve certainly made considerable progress in quantum research and technology that’s turning a lot of heads.

Last August, the Chinese government launched a quantum satellite into space, a move the Pentagon even considered as a “notable advance”. The satellite was used as part of the Quantum Experiments at Space Scale (QUESS) Project, where the satellite was able to relay encrypted messages from space to Earth at distances never previously achieved. The quantum satellite successfully transmitted data over a distance of 1200 kilometers, a figure that’s up to 20 orders of magnitude more efficient than using an optical fiber of an equivalent length. Previous data transmissions topped off around a few hundred kilometers.

The technology behind the breakthrough is called quantum key distribution. This technology (commonly referred to as QKD) works using photons- a particle that transmits light for data transfer. Quantum computing ultimately points to a new era of faster more powerful computers, and the theory goes that they would be able to break current levels of encryption, which are traditionally reliant upon conventional mathematics. As a result, this is primarily why China has dabbled with quantum cryptography for encryption.

According to Xinhua (China’s state news agency), the encryptions are described as “unbreakable”, mainly because of how the data is transported via photons. Since photons can’t be perfectly copied, any attempt to measure them will disturb these charged particles. As a result, anyone who tries to intercept this data, will leave some sort of trace.

These breakthroughs could have significant implications for cybersecurity in making business safer, but also more difficult for governments to hack into communication streams. These recently-achieved feats come in the wake of the Chinese government emphasizing how they were prioritizing the development of their space sector. Aside from their quantum research, the Chinese government aspires to reach Mars by 2020, and become a major space power by 2030.

The Chinese government clearly has heightened ambitions for QKD technology, and hope to use their satellite system interactions with ground-based networks to forge a secure global network in the near future.

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