Being unhackable is one of the big promises of quantum computers, and in the current climate of hacking for political gain, transmitting information safely has never been more important. Unfortunately, according to University of Ottawa researchers, quantum computers can be hacked.
In a paper published in Science Advances, the researchers were able to clone photons carrying information about a quantum state. This is the first time scientists have been able to do that.
Hackers can’t simply copy and paste quantum information like they’d do with a traditional computer file. Quantum information is affected by interactions with other systems, and so far there has been no way to clone the state and get information out. Now, however, the team has done just that.
The researchers were able to create highly accurate copies and, while they were not perfect (that’s still prohibited by the laws of physics), they were good enough to allow hacking. But they also discovered what step could be taken to avoid getting quantum hacked.
"What we found was that when larger amounts of quantum information are encoded on a single photon, the copies will get worse and hacking even simpler to detect," said lead author Frédéric Bouchard in a statement.
"We were also able to show that cloning attacks introduce specific, observable noises in a secure quantum communication channel. Ensuring photons contain the largest amount of information possible and monitoring these noises in a secure channel should help strengthen quantum computing networks against potential hacking threats."
This discovery is going to play an important role in the construction of quantum communication systems and how quantum networks might behave. And it shows that the theories of quantum information are being tested more and more with real world problems.
"Our team has built the first high-dimensional quantum cloning machine capable of performing quantum hacking to intercept a secure quantum message," added senior author professor Ebrahim Karimi. "Once we were able to analyze the results, we discovered some very important clues to help protect quantum computing networks against potential hacking threats."
Quantum computers use quantum bits instead of the regular 0s and 1s. This allows programmers to harness the laws of quantum mechanics to do incredible calculations that not even supercomputers can perform. Unlocking the secrets of the universe and designing better life-saving drugs are two examples often used to describe the power of this technology.
While the potential benefits are undeniable, quantum mechanics is fickle and scientists haven’t built a quantum computer yet. A blueprint for one has been proposed recently and maybe they’ll become reality sooner than we think.