Encryption that is used to protect our security and privacy when doing digital transactions such as withdrawing cash from an ATM or buying products online, depends on random number generators.
Today’s technology using random number generators depend on the randomness of physical processes, or on computer algorithms. These methods are fundamentally complex versions of rolling dice a number of times to get random numbers. Although the numbers generated seem to be random, knowing for example how many “dice” are being used leaves an opportunity for hackers to work out the numbers sometimes. This leaves data that is supposed to be secure, vulnerable.
In a new development, engineers have developed a random number generator that is fast and is based on a quantum mechanical process. The result could be the most secure encryption keys in the world.
The work signifies key progress on the path to integrating quantum based random number generators into computers, tablets and mobile phones. The solution will generate the highest quality numbers and thus provide a level of security that is higher than before.
Carlos Abellan, a doctoral student at ICFO, the Institute of Photonic Sciences and a member of the Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology in Spain explains that the quantum-based technology was previously used in high profile science experiments. The team has packaged the technology in a way that could make it possible to use commercially. He also believes that as far as integration is concerned, this is a big step forward and it is likely that other commercial products will soon use quantum technologies.
Reaching speeds in the range of gigabits per second, the new device is fast enough for real-time encryption of communication data. Its applications include encrypting large amounts of data traveling to and from a server and video or phone calls. Other possibilities for its use are complex scientific simulations of random processes, such as nuclear reactions or biological interactions and stock market predictions.
Unlike current technology, the new device generates random numbers based on the quantum properties of light. This makes it impossible to predict no matter how much information is known, as the process itself is inherently random. Optica paper reports that this device is smaller and faster than quantum random number generators developed by other researchers.
Valerio Pruneri, who led the collaborative research effort, notes that previous research done by the team has proven that the quantum processes taking place exhibit true randomness. The big technological advance was made by using a design that incorporates two lasers interfering with each other in a limited space. While keeping the same properties that were used in previous experiments, this makes the device much smaller.
Photonic integrated circuit (PIC) technology was used to create two quantum number generators that fit into a package only 6 by 2 millimeters big. Lasers and detectors used by the new quantum random generator can be integrated into photonic components through PIC technology. The resulting chip has low power consumption and a small footprint. PIC-based devices can also be integrated with traditional electronics. This means that the random number generator can be used with the processing, driving and reading electronics required for communications or computation.
Pruneri concludes that although this was a first demonstration, it proves that by using PICs, quantum technologies can be applied practically. PIC based technology will aid quantum cryptography, quantum random number generation and other quantum-based technologies. Innovative commercial products can now be built with integrated quantum technologies.