Have you ever wondered how we forward WhatsApp messages, share memes on Instagram, and slide into DMs so easily? You might spend hours scrolling through your phone to search for that perfect ‘good morning’ text but it takes less than a blink of an eye (if the signals are even half good) to send it across to someone. We do everything on the internet, from having casual conversations, to sending and receiving important confidential information and even transact money. And we all do it with blind trust thinking that no one is prying over our internet, but the truth is that someplace or the other it is bare.
But we are not here to talk about the internet algorithm, rather our internet reception and how everything we converse on can be hacked. However, with the use of quantum networks scientists have developed an unhackable internet space wherein none of our activities could be seen. This article uncovers how this space has been developed and how will it be used.
The Need for Unhackable Internet
Since the beginning of communication technology, from the invention of telegraphs to the present day’s fiber optic internet, there has always been the problem of signal degradation or loss of transmission over distances. the first repeaters (electronic devices to receive and retransmit signals so that it can cover long distances without obstruction), were set up with the aim to overcome this loss and delay somewhere around the mid-1800s.
But almost 200 years later repeaters are still an integral part of our communication technology. In our usual network, the messages that we send to someone travel in more or less a straight line. Along the way, the signal passes through repeaters which reads them, amplifies, and corrects for errors. This whole process of transmission is vulnerable to attacks at any point. Therefore, the need for an unhackable internet arises.
How is the Internet made Unhackable?
Quantum physics is the basis of protecting the internet from hacking and preserving our communication signals. It will be dependent on the quality of quantum particles called Entanglement. It will be able to work through two quantum phenomena.
The first quantum entanglement allows two photons (the smallest discrete amount of quantum of electromagnetic radiation) at a considerable distance to take opposite values from each other. The two particles can become so inextricably linked that no matter how much distance separates them, changing the properties of one will change those of the other.
The second phenomenon is a quantum superposition wherein a particle can exist in two different states at once. In this state, the information will be coded into entangled pairs of photons. In data terms, it means that both of them represent a one and a zero at the same time.
Essentially, a quantum repeater is a small, special-purpose quantum computer. At every stage of the network, quantum repeaters must be able to catch and process quantum bits of quantum information to correct errors and store them long enough for the rest of the network to be ready. Until now, that has not been possible for two reasons: firstly, single photons are very difficult to catch, and secondly, quantum information is notoriously fragile, making it very challenging to process and store for long periods of time.
But the system will not be completely unhackable. The quantum transmissions are not hackable but the endpoints could still be hacked. the sending and receiver stations are vulnerable as at those points the system is still trying to convert the classical signal into a quantum signal or the other way around.
Experiment and Successes
A team in China used a form of the aforementioned technology and constructed a 2000-kilometre-long network between Beijing and Shanghai. However, some parts of the project relied on classical components that periodically broke the quantum link before re-establishing a new one, which made it vulnerable to hacking.
But soon after that, a team of Dutch scientists starting setting up a network between Delft and Hague in the Netherlands. The team successfully demonstrated sending a link for more than 1.5 kilometres. They might become the first team to complete the development of such repeaters in the next five to six years.
In Chicago as well as scientists from the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago were able to create an 83-kilometre long “quantum loop” in the suburbs of Chicago itself. It came to be one of the longest quantum networks in the United States.
In India, however, this technology will take a long time to be developed. Dr Apoorva D Patel, one of India’s leading quantum researchers and a professor at Centre for High Energy Physics, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru claimed that India would need hubs, relays, standard storage, and error connection to set the quantum network up.
Even though the government is looking for it to be developed in the next decade, scientists are aware that it will take much longer than that. He also claimed that even if it were to be developed soon in India, it might not be as close to the quantum network as it might be to the present-day internet, thus reducing its signal transmission speed and overall application.
MIT Technology Review