Unhackable internet

As the internet continues to penetrate all aspects of our modern lives, issues related to data protection, privacy and cyber security are becoming ever more pertinent. But what if we could design the web to be inherently secure?

29 March 2021

A computer screen with program code warning of a detected malware script program. 3d illustration

By Mariusz Bogacki, Researcher and Science Communicator, Edinburgh

Researchers at institutions such as Delf University of Technology, the University of Chicago or the University of Science and Technology of China are doing just that. They hope to create an internet network utilising the power of quantum mechanics in order to transmit information in a more secure manner.

Quantum powered internet

Modern telecommunication networks utilise fibre-optic cables to transport internet. Fibre-optic cables enable high speed data connection by carrying light inside them. Recently, scientists began applying laws of quantum mechanics to transmit encoded information via pairs of photons across the same fibre-optic cables. As photons are a type of elementary particle that moves at the speed of light, they allow for quantum transmissions that are extremely difficult to eavesdrop on. The breakthrough was achieved with the use of ‘entanglement’ or the transmission of sub-atomic particles. When two particles become inextricably linked, changing the properties of one of them changes those of the other, regardless of the distance between them. In other words, entangled photons can’t be covertly read (hacked) without disrupting their content. Scientists believe that this technology will form bases for virtually unhackable internet networks in the near future.

A new era of communications

As the technology uses existing fibre-optic cables, it is designed to run as a supplementary network, making it easier to introduce. Before a global roll out, quantum internet networks are planned to be used in the banking sector, health services, as well as in aircraft communication. However, the technology has the potential of transforming communication systems in areas of science, industry and national security. It is also expected that in the future, the technology will be applied to personal mobile devices, making online interaction completely private.

In recent years there has been concentrated research on the possibilities and power of quantum computing. Yet, even though we are still far away from implementing this technology in our computers or mobile devices, the idea of quantum networks powering the internet is within our reach. Researchers believe that an unhackable global quantum internet networks may start to materialise by the end of the decade.