With the inevitable arrival of quantum computing, the search is on for new encryption solutions to protect our most sensitive data against the potentially debilitating impact of the accompanying quantum threat on our current cryptography.

Quantum cryptography is one such encryption solution being investigated for its potential capabilities to safeguard critical data in a way current encryption methods can’t.

But what exactly is quantum cryptography, and how is it being used today?

Quantum Cryptography in Action

Quantum cryptography (not to be confused with post-quantum cryptography), harnesses the laws of quantum physics to transmit data securely, in a way that makes it impossible for cyber criminals to eavesdrop undetected.

The best example of how quantum cryptography is being used today is quantum key distribution (QKD), theorized by cryptographers for nearly 50 years.

Quantum key distribution allows for the transmission of a secret, random sequence — the key — using a series of photons. Measurements taken at each end of the transmission can be compared in order for senders and receivers to detect whether the key has been compromised. Unlike standard cryptography, it is impossible to intercept or even observe a quantum encrypted key without disrupting the photons, thereby changing the aforementioned measurements on either end. This is in part due to a principle called the observer effect, which states that the mere act of observation, even passive, instantaneously changes quantum phenomena, alerting users to eavesdropping.

Despite promising potential as a data security solution in the quantum era, quantum key distribution currently has technological limitations. In order to transmit a quantum key, a single-photon laser must beam a signal via a fiber optic cable, one photon at a time, a method much slower than today’s telecommunication technologies. The dedicated fiber optic cable required between sender and receiver in QKD also makes distance a limiting factor. QKD cannot be easily implemented in software or existing network equipment, and the special purpose equipment and infrastructure required is costly, with flexibility and stability issues.

Despite this, research continues to find solutions that would make quantum key distribution a more viable and widely-used option for data security ahead of the arrival of quantum computing.

Measurement-device-independent quantum key distribution (MDI-QKD) is a unique protocol that can enable QKD-based communication over longer distances, along with higher key production rates and more reliable network verification.

In China, a network for quantum key distribution has been built by Jian-Wei Pan and colleagues at the University of Science and Technology, using fibre optic links in conjunction with a satellite link spanning thousands of kilometers between multiple cities. The system successfully demonstrates for the first time a secure, long-distance MDI-QKD over a free-space channel, with plans to further expand the network in association with partners in Austria, Italy, Russia and Canada.

This initiative has put the theory of quantum key distribution into practice, paving the way for the realization of a global-scale quantum secure communication network.

While challenges remain, the research is promising — and an important milestone on the path toward a viable, large-scale application of quantum key distribution that will help to usher in a whole new era of quantum-resistant data security.

Next-Generation Cryptography for the Quantum Age

The continuing quest for a better encryption solution ahead of the quantum age is heading toward encouraging alternatives. Theon Technology is a pioneer leading the paradigm shift on the road to perfect secrecy for businesses.

The Theon approach to next-generation cryptography mitigates the problems that have blossomed as old protocols collide with new and daunting volumes of diverse sensitive information. Our SaaS utilizes quantum-resistant patented algorithms that deliver on the promise of truly scalable, commercially viable, enterprise ready, One Time Pad inspired security without the need for specialized hardware.

The Theon cryptographic model is symmetric, leveraging a unique private key for both encryption and decryption. Paired with complementary third-party key management solutions, the Theon model also makes it easier to give up the expedient practice of storing decryption keys in proximity to the data they protect where they can be targeted by cyber attackers – Theon keys can easily be sequestered elsewhere, a high-value security feature in itself.

Through our cryptographically secure random number generator, Archimedes, which can generate high-entropy keys at scale with speed and economy, and Hypatia, our encryption solution that reduces the bandwidth required to support OTP key transmission (making it feasible to deploy OTPs across more use cases), Theon Technology is setting a new standard for software-based cryptography more secure than even the symmetric cryptographic models of the past.

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Take your company’s data security to the next level — Reach out to a Theon expert today to find out how you can harness the advanced secrecy of high-entropy, quantum-resistant keys and the One Time Pad for your organization. We also have free eBooks available for download, including Cryptography’s End, which preps you with an understanding of the end of cryptography as we know it and why quantum-proof encryption is so critical to the future of cybersecurity.