The US Department of Energy announced their plan for the nation’s first quantum internet during a press conference held last week at the University of Chicago. With this announcement also comes bold claims of “virtually unhackable networks.” But, what does it all mean? We take a look a look at quantum internet this week and untangle these claims so that you can Live Easy, at the subatomic level.
Computing at the subatomic level
Quantum computing begins with subatomic particles, and because we want you to Live Easy, we’re heading back to science class to go over the essentials.
Remember atoms? They’re the smallest units of matter that make up a chemical element (think – the Periodic Table of Elements) and still have the chemical properties of that element. When we talk smaller than atoms, we talk subatomic particles: The fundamental self-contained units of matter or energy. These include the constituents of the atom – electrons, protons, and neutrons – as well as photons, for instance – the discrete bundles, or quanta, of energy in which electromagnetic radiation, such as light, occurs. Because these particles can’t be reduced into smaller components, they’re also called elementary particles.
To mathematically describe the behaviour of matter and light as well as the interaction between subatomic particles and with electromagnetic radiation, we use quantum mechanics. What does this have to do with computers? Well, the early discovery in quantum physics that found that electrons behave as both waves and particles, for example, lead to the modern understanding of energy bands and band gaps that has allowed for the control of electrical properties of semiconductors and the fabrication of tiny transistors that form the basic bits used to process digital information. In other words, by turning on a computer, we exploit the wave nature of electrons and the control of materials it allows, essentially making quantum physics a base for modern computing.
This brings us (at last!) to quantum computing. While a traditional computer uses sequences of “bits”, which encode for either zero or ones, a quantum computer uses quantum bits (“qubits”) that encode the zeros and ones into two distinguishable quantum states. This way, qubits exhibit quantum behavior, allowing the laws and phenomena of quantum mechanics to apply. Two such phenomena on which quantum computing capitalizes are superposition and entanglement.
Quantum entanglement and superposition for quantum internet
In quantum mechanics, superposition is the ability of a quantum system to be in multiple states at once. So, while traditional computing works with zeros and ones, quantum computing has the advantage of working with ones, zeros, and superpositions of ones and zeros, offering more task capabilities.
Quantum entanglement, on the other hand, refers to the incredibly strong link between quantum particles; two or more particles can be inseparably linked when separated by great distances. Even at opposite ends of the universe, if something happens to one of the linked particles, something must also happen to the other.
With superposition and entanglement, quantum computing can process an enormous number of calculations simultaneously, making previously-thought impossible tasks possible, such as long-range, quantum-powered communications – or, a quantum internet.
These advantages are pushing the development of quantum computing. Just in May, in fact, physicists found a new way to generate quantum entangled photons , where quantum-entangled photons are detected in the 2.1 micrometer wavelength, bypassing the current shortcoming of detection in near-infrared range of 700 to 1,550 nanometer wavelengths where interferences from light-absorbing gases and solar radiation (ie. sunlight) occur. After all, for the development of a next-gen internet infrastructure, data connections should work at any time of day, not just at night.
With these recent developments, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) deemed it time to announce the development if the nation’s first quantum internet, making quantum computing a hot tech topic.
The US Department of Energy plans the nation’s first quantum internet
That’s right! The US DOE announced America’s Blueprint for the Quantum Internet in a press conference last week at the University of Chicago, “bringing the United States to the forefront of the global quantum race and ushering in a new era of communications.” The blueprint lays out the following four primary research segments:
- Providing the foundation for quantum internet (building blocks)
- Integrating various quantum networking devices
- Creating repeating, switching, and routing technologies for quantum entanglement
- Enabling error correction of quantum networking functions
US officials and scientists will apply these steps in development of what they’re calling a “second internet“, which would function alongside the world’s existing networks.
The DOE’s 17 National laboratories will serve as the backbone of the developing quantum internet in a multi-lab, multi-institution effort to ensure the development of the National Quantum Initiative Act, signed by President Trump in December 2018. This way, as each lab or institution deploys quantum communication nodes, these nodes can be connected to expand the growing network, an approach already tested across the city of Chicago.
Achieving quantum entanglement across Chicago
Teamed up with the University of Chicago, Scientists from the DOE Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, Illinois, have already built a “quantum loop” in a Chicago-based real-world experiment, achieving quantum entanglement across a 52-mile fibre network. The loop is “among the longest land-based quantum networks in the nation.”
Argonne plans to scale this experiment and grow the network by developing a two-way quantum link network with the Femi National Accelerator Laboratory. This would expand the testbed to 80-miles, laying the foundation for a national laboratory-led cross-country quantum internet.
As a bonus, scientists believe information shared over the quantum loop would be “extremely difficult to hack”, highlighting the focus on security of the developing technology.
Untangling the unhackable claims
The security of communications over quantum internet is heavily emphasized as an advantage of what’s to come as systems rely on the laws of quantum mechanics to control and transmit information more securely. The networks have even been referred to as “unhackable”, but is that really possible? And, what are these security claims based on?
Simply put, Quantum states change when observed, causing a change in the information signal in the presence of an observer, or hacker. In other words, due to their strong link when quantumly entangled, any attempt to observe or disrupt these particles would immediately alter their state, destroying the information being transmitted. This becomes more interesting when we discuss the transmission of encrypted data using quantum key distribution (QKD), where decryption keys are sent using qubits in quantum state; any attempt to interfere with or observe the transit of the encrypted data or decryption keys will lead to their collapse, discarding the keys and generating new ones as the process begins again.
While this approach definitely makes it more difficult for anyone to eavesdrop on the transmission of encrypted data, it doesn’t mean the networks are unhackable. As Forbes top tech contributor David Winder points out, QKD networks already exist, and vulnerabilities such as optical fiber termination points, switches, and connections remain targets for hackers. Otherwise said, nothing is truly unhackable.
At LeCiiR, our drive for providing our clients with quality, innovative security solutions matches our excitement for the development of quantum internet and, in time, quantum AI. That’s why we offer custom zero trust security model implementation and secure, reliable internet services for your SME. For questions on our services, quantum internet and computing, or any other topics don’t hesitate to contact us and leave your comments.
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