Quantum cryptography: Your security holy grail?

The five-year countdown is on for totally secure communication

The five-year countdown is on for totally secure communication

Quantum cryptography – using a private communication channel to lock down the exchange of sensitive data between two points – has to date created much more discussion than it has practical applications.

However, with scientists, researchers and academics already on the case, it could be just five years until the technology hits the mainstream.

Martin Illsley, director of Accenture Research Labs, said that the rate of increase in computing power means that existing methods of cryptography are getting ever easier to crack, given more computing power means hackers can put more and more processing muscle into unlocking the random combinations that keep data transfer secure: "As computing increases in power, people are increasingly able to do that," he said.

Quantum cryptography is already in use in a minority of organisations, but can only be used over short distances – typically 100 to 150km – because the photons that are used in the process to represent binary information will degrade if they travel further over cable.

If the quantum cryptography is used wirelessly, the distances can be drastically reduced again.

However, to carry quantum-encrypted material over longer distances – across continents, for example – quantum repeaters are necessary to prevent the degradation of the photons.

These, Illsley predicts, are on their way within the next five years, meaning that quantum cryptography could be in use in UK businesses by the end of the decade.

While the technology is still very much on the cutting edge, should the technology become popular it will secure the future of biometrics, as both the sending and receiving party must authenticate their identity to keep the data transmission channel secure.

Illsley said: "It does, in essence, assume someone is who they say they are... [Quantum cryptography] still needs biometric proof."