Quantum cryptology right now is the absolute best of the best in terms of computer and network security, as it’s seen as completely unbreakable. But nothing is unbreakable— someone will find a way. And with quantum cryptology, one way may be to mimic the quantum entanglement upon with the encoding relies.
Quantum cryptography relies on the concept of entanglement. With entanglement, some statistical correlations are measured to be larger than those found in experiments based purely on classical physics. Cryptographic security works by using the correlations between entangled photons pairs to generate a common secret key. If an eavesdropper intercepts the quantum part of the signal, the statistics change, revealing the presence of an interloper.
But there’s a catch here. I can make a classical signal that is perfectly correlated to any signal at all, provided I have time to measure said signal and replicate it appropriately. In other words, these statistical arguments only apply when there is no causal connection between the two measurements.
You might think that this makes intercepting the quantum goodness of a cryptographic system easy. But you would be wrong. When Eve intercepts the photons from the transmitting station run by Alice, she also destroys the photons. And even though she gets a result from her measurement, she cannot know the photons’ full state. Thus, she cannot recreate, at the single photon level, a state that will ensure that Bob, at the receiving station, will observe identical measurements.
That is the theory anyway. But this is where the second loophole comes into play. We often assume that the detectors are actually detecting what we think they are detecting. In practice, there is no such thing as a single photon, single polarization detector. Instead, what we use is a filter that only allows a particular polarization of light to pass and an intensity detector to look for light. The filter doesn’t care how many photons pass through, while the detector plays lots of games to try and be single photon sensitive when, ultimately, it is not.
It’s this gap between theory and practice that allows a carefully manipulated classical light beam to fool a detector into reporting single photon clicks.
Since Eve has measured the polarization state of the photon, she knows what polarization state to set on her classical light pulse in order to fake Bob into recording the same measurement result. When Bob and Alice compare notes, they get the right answers and assume everything is on the up and up.
The researchers demonstrated that this attack succeeds with standard (but not commercial) quantum cryptography equipment under a range of different circumstances. In fact, they could make the setup outperform the quantum implementation for some particular settings.
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