NEW YORK Magiq Technologies Inc. has employed quantum information processing techniques in its development of an uncrackable encryption system for communication lines, slated for delivery early next year. The fiber-optic link updates its encryption key encoded as quantum bits every second, and cannot be eavesdropped on without detection.
"Today we are limited to 30 kilometers [18.6 miles], but we think that with just some engineering improvements we can reach to 50 to 60 kilometers [31 to 37.2 miles], and eventually as far as 100 km [62 miles] in just a few years," said Alexei Trifonov, vice president of research and development at Magiq, based here.
Magiq's technology is the first commercial use of quantum cryptography after almost a decade of government and university research. By relying on Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, quantum cryptography ensures that communications cannot be eavesdropped upon without introducing errors that can readily detected by the receiver.
Only the encryption key, not the transmitted information itself, is quantum-encoded in transmissions at a rate of hundreds of bits per second. The necessity of transmitting single individual photons limits the speed of transmission due to the lack of available off-the-shelf components, Trifonov said. Magiq had to make some of its own low-level components because it could not locate quantum component suppliers, he said.
Magiq's Navaho communications link consists of two "black boxes" connected by a 30-km fiber-optic link that implement the BB84 quantum encryption code proposed by namesakes Gilles Brassard and Charles Bennett in their 1984 paper, "Quantum Cryptography: Public Key Distribution" (IEEE Transactions).
With BB84, each bit fed into a Navajo black box is encoded as a mixture of two equally likely non-orthogonal quantum states. According to Heisenberg's principle, it is impossible to distinguish with certainty between two non-orthogonal quantum states without making a measurement that can be detected by a receiver.
All other popular encryption methods depend upon a key that is so large that no eavesdropper will have enough computer power to crack it. In contrast, Magiq's BB84 technology offers a secret key distribution method that can never be cracked no matter how big a computer the hacker is using. The encryption method is a variation on the "one-time-pad" encoding that is changed every second.
"We can also tell if someone is trying to tamper with the box itself. This will be the most secure communications link possible with today's technology," said Andy Hammond, Magiq's vice president of marketing.
Navajo is currently in its alpha stage, but Hammond promised beta units for selected sites in the first quarter of 2003. The company is backed by $6.9 million in seed funding from investors that includes Amazon.com founder and chief executive officer Jeff Bezos; Wall Street trader and Magiq founder Robert Gelfond; Goldman Capital Management president Neal Goldman; Guaranteed Overnight Delivery chairman Walter Riley, and others. Hammond said the $6.9 million would be used to launch Navajo commercially in the second half of 2003, and to identify and acquire other intellectual property in the field of quantum information processing.