Computer scientists believe that even the strongest data encryption of present-day computers won’t stand a chance against their quantum heirs.
Not that quantum computers — the still-theoretical machines that read and process more advanced information than the digital 1s and 0s of today’s computers — don’t have their own weaknesses. But researchers at the University of Ottawa performing cutting-edge work are already making the computers of the future less hackable.
The team, led by professor Ebrahim Karimi of the university's physics department, has accomplished what they believe is a world first in quantum mechanics: They’ve shown how quantum computers, which are supposedly unhackable, can still have some of their information stolen. And they’ve shown how to defend against these hacks.
It’s easy to copy information from a conventional computer because its basic data unit, the bit, is binary — it’s either a 1 or a 0. But a quantum computer’s data unit, a quantum bit, or qubit, can be at least two things at once: a one, a zero or both.
Simply copying qubits, Karimi said, changes how they present themselves. And that’s why quantum computers are supposed to be unhackable: any copied data will have changed in the copying.
“But,” Karimi said, “you can have a protocol with which you can get some information. We call this cloning.”
Only imperfect clones of quantum data are possible: some information will survive the process intact; some will be corrupted. The uOttawa team discovered that cloning can be made much more difficult and less reliable through the deployment of high-dimensional particles, which can do everything qubits can do and more: they can present as 2s, 3s or 4s, and more, in addition to 1s and 0s.
The research team found that the higher dimension particles produce lower-quality clones.
“The conclusion was that if you want to be less hackable, it is better to go to higher dimensions,” said Karimi.
This article originally appeared in Metro News.