Soon, supersecret codes made of light that can’t be hacked

June 6th, 2009 - 2:22 pm ICT by ANI  

National Geographic Washington, June 6 (ANI): The future might see supersecret codes made of light, which can’t be hacked without revealing the hackers, thanks to a team of Austrian physicists who sent pairs of entangled photons across a distance of 89 miles (144 kilometers).

Entangled photons are pairs of ordinary light particles that are mysteriously connected at the quantum level. For each pair, one photon seems to “know” what has happened to the other no matter how far apart they are, an effect Albert Einstein once referred to as “spooky action at a distance.”

Cryptographers believe that this property makes entangled photons ideal for sending secret messages.

While the method won’t prevent people from intercepting a communique, if someone does, the entangled pair will instantly reveal the spy.

“You immediately know that there was somebody on the line,” team member Anton Zeilinger of the University of Vienna told National Geographic News.

Transmitting photons over long distances is difficult, because the beam quickly loses intensity, like the fading reach of a flashlight.

This makes the entangled photons harder to detect the farther they travel.

“We lose many photons by scattering in the atmosphere and absorption,” Zeilinger said. “Only about one in ten million arrive on the other side,” he added.

Making detectors that can “find” the key photons among the background light is therefore a crucial part of the experiment.

The team had previously managed to detect lone members of entangled pairs sent over a 90-mile (144-kilometer) distance.

For their new research, Zeilinger and colleagues made their detectors sensitive enough to send both members of a pair and find them together at a defined location.

The next step would be to send each entangled photon to a different receiver, opening the door for distant allies to send coded messages to each other via a satellite link.

According to award-winning science fiction writer and futurist Robert J. Sawyer, the biggest short-term benefit of quantum messages will be in e-commerce, where coded data transmissions are vital for theft prevention.

But, coded transmissions spanning Earth are just the beginning.

“Theoretically, entangled particles will retain their bonding regardless of how far apart they are,” Sawyer said.

Thus, they might someday be used for interstellar communications.

“A little more sophistication would allow text messages. More would allow voice or even video,” said Science fiction writer Jerry Oltion of Eugene, Oregon.

“With the right encoding, I see no reason why complex, real time messages can’t be sent via ’spookygram’,” he added. (ANI)

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