Los Alamos un-crackable cyber technology close to commercialization

Thursday - 1/26/2012, 8:04am EST

Jane Nordholt, a technical staff member, Applied Modern Physics at Los Alamos National Lab

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Quantum cryptography is not a household term — but very soon it could change the way your smartphone, your ID card and other electronics are protected from hackers.

Los Alamos National Laboratory has been working on this technology for the past 18 years and is working on a patent.

"The technology has many advantages over other key distribution methods," according to a release from the lab. "The laws of quantum physics and information theory ensure that these keys never can be cracked, regardless of advancements in computer technology."

Current cybersecurity technology has relied on "hard math problems," said Jane Nordholt, a technical staff member in Applied Modern Physics at Los Alamos.

"Hard math problems don't always stay hard, and it's very difficult to project how long your security is secure for," she said in an interview with The Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

Quantum cryptography, on the other hand, moves beyond mathematics and into a "completely new paradigm," Nordholt said.

The technology relies on single photons. "We can come down with the laws of physics and guarantee ... no adversary could know no more than ... ten to the minus six or seven of a bits of all the key bits we produce," Nordholt said.

In other words, quantum cryptography creates an un-crackable device.

Creating such technology requires sophisticated equipment, and the challenge has been how to make the technology small enough so that it could fit on, say, a microchip in your smartphone. Nordholt said scientists can easily enough use a laser and "attenuate it down to the single photon, but you have to be careful you don't let that creep up," she said.

Los Alamos is now working with Harris Corporation to begin commercializing the technology, Nordholt said.

"Depending on investment, in a few years, we could have these things," she said.

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