Optical/IP Networks

Startup Says Quantum Crypto Is Real

Startup MagiQ Technologies Inc. yesterday announced it's shipping what appears to be the first security system based on quantum cryptography (see MagiQ Ships Quantum Crypto).

Quantum cryptography goes a step further than electronic cryptography through its employment of a stream of photons, the quantum properties of which determine the key. The fun part is that if an intruder observes or intercepts the transmission, those properties get changed -- an unavoidable principle of quantum mechanics -- meaning the sender and receiver can tell if anyone is eavesdropping. Perhaps more important, the key can't be copied or faked (see Optical Science Gets Spookier and Quantum Cipher Sent by Fiber).

It's a potential breaththrough, though working with photons has never been easy, and, as the optical networking bubble has shown, it can be an expensive way to build technology.

MagiQ's Navajo system, a box made to fit in a standard telecom rack, was unveiled in February and began beta trials in March (see MagiQ Demos Quantum Cryptography).

MagiQ says Navajo performs the usual triple-DES and AES encryption standards. What's special is the transmission of the key, a string of random bits used to decipher messages. Computers normally use a random number for the key, producing encryption schemes that could be broken if enough computing power were made available.

"There's a big vulnerability people see, because optical fiber is very easy to tap," says Bob Gelfond, MagiQ CEO, citing one carrier that was finding taps in its Manhattan office "several times a week."

Using a quantum crypto scheme can defend against such taps. In addition to the obvious government and military customers, quantum cryptography is finding interest in the financial sector, for protecting backups or real-time traffic. Another target market would be any industry needing to protect intellectual property -- not just high-tech firms, but businesses such as automotive firms or tire manufacturers, Gelfond says.

But the real market may be the carriers themselves, he notes, simply because they're looking for revenue sources. Quantum cryptography could become a premium service for them. With that in mind, MagiQ is aiming for a price -- around $50,000 to $100,000, depending on features -- that's comparable to other add-ons such as VPN boxes.

Several other companies are working on quantum cryptography, but few appear to be interested in selling a complete system. Swiss firm ID Quantique is trying to commercialize quantum cryptography but so far offers only components such as a photon detector. ID Quantique recently partnered with other Swiss firms to expand its work into a quantum cryptography infrastructure (see Partners Promote Quantum Cryptography).

Elsewhere, large companies, including IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), Mitsubishi Electric Corp., NEC Corp. (Nasdaq: NIPNY; Tokyo: 6701), and Toshiba Corp. (Tokyo: 6502), are investigating the area more as a research project, with promising results but no products planned for the near future. "The big guys doing the research are not coming out with anything for a least a couple of years, as far as we know," Geldfond says. (See NEC Transmits Quanta, Japanese Claim Transmission Record, and Mitsubishi Creates Quantum Crypto.)

So, while MagiQ isn't alone in pursuing quantum cryptography, the company's taken a different approach. "Where we started to break new ground was in putting the engineers into the mix, guys who had substantial experience -- Sycamore guys, Tektronix guys," Gelfond says.

MagiQ employs 22, with offices based in New York. Founded in 1999, the company has been powered by roughly $6.9 million in angel funding (see Quantum Crypto Company Launches). In addition to Navajo, MagiQ is offering a box that only generates the quantum keys, intended as a tool for research outfits and universities.

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading
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Perceptor 12/4/2012 | 11:17:12 PM
re: Startup Says Quantum Crypto Is Real This quote had me wondering:
There's a big vulnerability people see, because optical fiber is very easy to tap," says Bob Gelfond, MagiQ CEO, citing one carrier that was finding taps in its Manhattan office "several times a week."

How is optical fiber easy to tap? What techniques can one use to tap into it?
kryptical 12/4/2012 | 11:17:10 PM
re: Startup Says Quantum Crypto Is Real Pop a 80/20 splitter inline, stash it somewhere out of site and send the mirrored stream to a collection device...
dljvjbsl 12/4/2012 | 11:17:07 PM
re: Startup Says Quantum Crypto Is Real For those like me who are not conversant with the real deatails of crypto, why would a quantum system offer better service than a public key system? I am not aking about a theoretical result;I asking about how this would be better in practice.

Is it the ability to detect an attempted eavesdropping rather than the absolute security of the system itself?
captain kennedy 12/4/2012 | 11:17:07 PM
re: Startup Says Quantum Crypto Is Real "Popping an 80/20 tap" is an intrusive, detectable event and is too juvenile for the serious hacker. On the other hand, there exists readily available evanescent couplers which can be clamped to the exterior of a fiber jacket. These couple a few percent (fraction of a dB) of the signal which can easily be reamplified and detected. This method is less intrusive and less detectable. The best way to catch this is to provide single photon transmission, e.g. MagiQ approach. The photon can't be split so you either get it or you don't. Hence eliminating efficient, unintrusive tapping methods. Congratulations to MagiQ.
whyiswhy 12/4/2012 | 11:17:04 PM
re: Startup Says Quantum Crypto Is Real If the photon is replaced, their system is vulnerable.

Let's see: make one photon three hundred, use 299 and put one back.

Do they know the flavor of their photons? Do their photons have barcodes? Nope. That's one law that can't be gotten around.

Just thimmin'

AAL6 12/4/2012 | 11:17:03 PM
re: Startup Says Quantum Crypto Is Real "Single photon" transmission is very hard to achieve as even in the non-compromised fiber there is a loss of the photon energy and thus change of its quantum state/wavelenght which changes its reflection properties and also make it look like it's been tampered with.
There are always losses and especially when the fiber is bent, which is incidentally the point where you want to put your tap on the fiber ;) (you have to cut the jacket and go to the fiber, but that's easy to do).
This is undetectable as the inherent fiber losses due to internal reflection on bends are acceptable and something you have to live with. Only if the fiber is guaranteeed to be laid down in a straight line from the begining to the end you can rely on theoretical total reflection and hope that you are not emitting light from the outer core, in which case tapping is impossible without physically cutting the fiber.
Belzsch 12/4/2012 | 11:16:49 PM
re: Startup Says Quantum Crypto Is Real For your information, symmetric ciphers such as 3DES and others have much faster implementations than public key ciphers such as RSA. At best, a DES implementation can be five times faster than an RSA implementation. That means that a 3DES system still runs at 3/5 the speed of an RSA system. How's that for your practicality? :)
The main (probably only :) problem with symmetric-key ciphers is that once the key is revealed the system is useless. If one transfers the key via quantum cryptography using photons (quantum cryptography relies on the uniqueness of the photon's quantum state) it can be transfered safely (or at least so that the key can be changed as soon as eavesdropping is detected).
dljvjbsl 12/4/2012 | 11:16:48 PM
re: Startup Says Quantum Crypto Is Real
The main (probably only :) problem with symmetric-key ciphers is that once the key is revealed the system is useless. If one transfers the key via quantum cryptography using photons (quantum cryptography relies on the uniqueness of the photon's quantum state) it can be transfered safely (or at least so that the key can be changed as soon as eavesdropping is detected).:)

I am well aware of this and so are most others on this board. This is the reason that TLS and other systems allow the use of public key systems for the exchange of keys.

Now quantum cryptography could be used by TLS in the same way for key exchange. The question that I am asking is if this has any practical importance. In real world systems do the properties of quantum crypto have any real advantage over the well known and deployed public key sytems.

The companies developing quantum crypto must think so but the only thing that I have seen them say is that public key systems may be cracked in the future. This seems to my inexperienced assessment to not be a very strong justification to develop a company based on this technology. It is certainly a justification for research but for commerce?
opto 12/4/2012 | 11:16:47 PM
re: Startup Says Quantum Crypto Is Real Taps: Raychem built Raynet, initially, on the basis of a simple tap that bent the fiber slightly, some light spills out and into a receiver at the bend. Most of the signal continued on. This was the basis of the first PON architecture that I know of. The tap was very simple and needed just a simple alcohol cleaning of the fiber. It is re-usable many times and does not break the fiber if done right. It is not an evanescent field tap. True evanescent taps are not at all easy to implement because one must somehow get a Rx diode or separate waveguide within less than about 10 microns of the core. In evanescent taps this is usually done by grinding down the fiber until the core is almost exposed. Doing that in a wiring closet somewhere is obviously not realistic. Anyway, Michael Salour, et al, of Ipitek, developed the tap for Raychem quite a while ago.

Crypto - There is a simple axiom at places like the NSA: All crypto can be broken, it is only a question of time and money. The objective of utilizing crypto systems is to make the breaking of the code more expensive than the value of the information subsequently obtained. It is like buying insurance. This new quantum technology is already penetrable. The only question the public cannot answer at this point is, at what cost? It would not be sold now on the open market if the NSA could not break it. How do I know? The NSA can pay them more than they could ever make selling commercial versions, if necessary, to keep it off the market. That I'll guarantee!
Light-bulb 12/4/2012 | 11:16:41 PM
re: Startup Says Quantum Crypto Is Real I couldn't help but throw my hat into the Fray...

First off Crypto used by the NSA and others... is significantly better than any public product that you can be sure. To give you an idea... In certain products two disparate systems communicate via a 64KB key that then Combines by (Magic we'll say) to form a 128KB key. Just so you all understand... 128KB KEY!! Not a 128 bit, not even a 2048 bit key... NO 128KB key. Now that we have got that out there what is used in the public systems ARE breakable via NSA but at a cost. AES in an appropriate configuration is still very difficult to break for any one unless they hold the key. The Key is the ... Key. This system allows transport of the key via Quantum methods. This allows for a very secure method of sending the key. A brute force method would still be able to attack the Black data to identify patterns and break the TEK and retrieving the plain text.
Opto... You are slightly wrong however. Not all crypto can be broken there are a slew I could inform you about. But in system stream encryption its much easier. When you look at hardware systems though Unless the hardware is controlled by the Eavsdropper its nigh unto impossible. (Unless you know the Algorithm used to encrypt and can tailor the attach) When people spout out that it would take 100 trillion trillion years to break x with all the planets computers they are mistaken if the attacker knows the method of encryption. That why these numbers are out there... to go through every possible key combination yes...
In any case. With the verge of Quantum Systems coming online be looking for the NSA to get extremly paranoid. The reality is systems can become so random as to be literally unbreakable. Can you fathom a 1tb key? It will be reality for the Government within 10 years... Only with Quantum systems.
Quantum Technology is NOT penetrable only the method employed. If I generate a new algorithm (with some though) it would take lifetimes to break a 256bit key, that is the reality. Thus all things considered Its unbreakable.

Anyway my .02 cents. I heard about this stuff somewhere maybe in a book...

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