March 27, 2014
European Researchers Reveal The Physics Of The Secret
[ Watch the Video: Keeping Secrets in a World of Spies and Mistrust ]
Peter Suciu for redOrbit.com - Your Universe OnlineIs it really a secret if researchers share it? In the March 27 issue of Nature, the weekly international journal of science, researchers Artur Ekert and Renato Renner revealed what physics can tell us about keeping our secrets secret.
This comes after high profile revelation that the National Security Agency (NSA) had been spying on emails, phone calls and other means of communications. Numerous companies have denied allegations of assisting the NSA, but a report from January suggested spy agencies might not just be listening in on phone calls or monitoring Internet browsing. Radio waves are also a “secret technology” being monitored by the NSA, redOrbit reported back in January.
Is nothing safe?
In the paper, titled "The Ultimate Physical Limits of Privacy," the authors noted:
“Among those who make a living from the science of secrecy, worry and paranoia are just signs of professionalism. Can we protect our secrets against those who wield superior technological powers? Can we trust those who provide us with tools for protection? Can we even trust ourselves, our own freedom of choice? Recent developments in quantum cryptography show that some of these questions can be addressed and discussed in precise and operational terms, suggesting that privacy is indeed possible under surprisingly weak assumptions.”
Ekert, who is the director of the Centre for Quantum Technlogy, professor of quantum physics at the University of Oxford, UK, suggested in a statement, “Recent developments in quantum cryptography show that privacy is possible under stunningly weak assumptions about the freedom of action we have and the trustworthiness of the devices we use.”
Ekert is also a Lee Kong Chian Centennial Professor at the National University of Singapore.
The researchers noted that in the history of communication even the most brilliant efforts of code-makers have been matched and defeated by the ingenuity of code-breakers. In addition, 20 years ago Ekert was among those researchers who independently proposed that quantum properties of particles of light could be used as a secret key for “secure communication.”
This could include a “key” that is actually a random sequence of 1s and 0s – or binary code – that could be used to make random choices when measuring the particles. This in turn could be used to encrypt a message. The researchers now suggest that this quantum cryptography has even progressed to commercial prospect, and that it has reached a new level of theoretical territory.
More importantly the researchers found that while this privacy needs to rely on randomness and trust, recent findings suggest that this could be used to protect sensitive data even from adversaries armed with superior technology that is unknown.
The study, which cited 68 works from the writings of Edgar Allen Poe on cryptography in 1841, through the founding papers of quantum cryptography in 1984 and 1991, and recent findings from last year, resulted in a mathematical discovery by Rennner and his collaborator about ‘randomness amplification.’
This suggested that a trick can turn some types of slightly-random numbers into completely random numbers, and when applied in cryptography, these methods can reinstate the abilities to make perfectly random choices and guarantee security even if these are partially manipulated.
“As long as some of our choices are not completely predictable and therefore beyond the powers that be, we can keep our secrets secret,” added Renner, professor of Theoretical Physics at ETH Zurich, Switzerland.
So could it block the NSA? Perhaps, but this line of research is only likely to be cast in the spotlight.
“As well as there being exciting scientific developments in the past few years, the topic of cryptography has very much come out of the shadows,” added Ekert, who has worked with and even advised several companies and government agencies. “It’s not just spooks talking about this stuff now.”