Diamonds take a quantum leap to IT security

Diamond-based devices could be helping IT managers detect network snooping and prevent information theft as anti-eavesdropping technology from the University of Melbourne gets venture funding.

The technology, based on quantum cryptography, uses a diamond to produce a single photon of light to stop information being intercepted, according to Dr Shane Huntington, University of Melbourne scientist and CEO of Quantum Communications Victoria (QCV).

The QCV program within the university's School of Physics has secured a $9 million deal with a consortium of quantum communication production and commercialization companies, including MagiQ Technologies, Japan, Qucor, Sydney, and California-based SGI.

"Eavesdropping is a global problem which causes huge financial losses for security agencies [so] there is a critical need for Australia to keep up with the rest of the world in Internet security," Huntington said. Existing communications systems are not foolproof because hackers or eavesdroppers can extract information from optical links without users being aware of it, he added.

First-generation products will be for very secure transmission of secure datasets, like a bank's daily off-site backup, but could serve the commodity networking market in about 20 years, Huntington said. It's a low transfer rate but idea is not to send data [this way] but the encryption key so you don't need the same transfer rate. One of the consortium's goals is to enhance that as much as possible. If you can securely transfer the key you can transfer the rest of that data over a standard telco line, he said.

"We hope to have a prototype within three years," Huntington said. "It's not a stronger form of encoding, it's a new paradigm, so if someone steals the information you definitely know it's happened. If you're sending one photon at a time and one goes missing you know it."

Huntington said the nascent industry already exists in the US and Europe, but commercial systems available today don't send one photon at a time - "they approximate it".

"The technology we're developing is a true source of these single photons; [others] use a laser and put it through a filter so there is approximately one," he said.

This is achieved by "growing" diamonds, which are "usually cleaner" than the mined gems, in QCV's lab. The synthetic diamonds have a defect which is the source of the single photon.

The program began after QCV was awarded $3.3 million as part of a grant from Victoria's Department of Innovation Industry and Regional Development to develop the technology. A further $480,000 from the federal Department of Education Science and Training was recently awarded to help QCV find infrared sources of single photons appropriate for international telecommunications networks.

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More about Communications SystemsEnhance ElectronicsLaserMagiQ TechnologiesParadigmQuantumSchool of PhysicsSGI AustraliaUniversity of MelbourneUniversity of Melbourne

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