An experiment in China using diamonds has put quantum code-breaking a step closer to reality, threatening to one day break the digital encryption technologies that safeguard banks, governments and the military. In their experiment, quantum physicists in Hefei, Anhui province, reportedly broke down the number 35 into its factors – the numbers five and seven – on a new type of quantum computing device built inside a diamond.
The process, known as factorization, is the key to cracking the most popular digital algorithm used in encryption today. The research was led by quantum physicist Professor Du Jiangfeng at the University of Science and Technology of China, and details of the results were published in the journal Physical Review Letters in March 2017.
The popular RSA algorithm, developed by Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir and Leonard Adleman in the 1970s, uses the product of two large prime numbers to encrypt a message. Only people who know the two prime numbers can decode the message, because it is practically impossible to factor the product of two prime numbers when they were sufficiently large. An enormous amount of digital computing power and thousands of years would be needed to determine the prime numbers used in the RSA system. But, in theory, a quantum computer could break a RSA code in the blink of an eye.
Professor Duan Changkui, another researcher involved in the experiment, said many technical challenges had to be overcome before the device could be used to break a code. These problems ranged from precise control of particles to better diamonds.
“The artificial diamonds must be extremely pure, and their nitrogen-vacancy centres perfectly aligned. The manufacturing process is very difficult,” he said. “It is not easy to predict when the first practical machine could be built.” But cryptographers were bracing for a battle…
RSA is just one type of algorithm. There are other mathematical methods of encryption that cannot be decoded by large-number factorization (like OTPSME), and these will be the second or third line of defense…
SOURCE: South China Morning Post