Will Aussie teleportation news improve cryptography?

Earlier this week researchers at the Australian National University said they had successfully teleported a laser beam, a development which the researchers said in press reports would have deep implications for computing and cryptography. But not so fast, say some scientists and security experts in the United States.

The reports about the "breakthrough," carried by the BBC and CNN.com, among others, said that a team led by researcher Ping Koy Lam had been able to simultaneously destroy a beam of photons and reassemble it in another place. The team claimed that its research would lead to perfect encryption, as well as faster computers, according to the reports.

Despite the play the story has received in the international media, the research is "not a very important announcement," according to Alexei Trifonov, vice president of experimental science at Magiq Technologies Inc., a company which is working on quantum information processing tools in New York and Somerville, Massachusetts.

The "breakthrough" is not so exciting because the principle at work has been used in the scientific community for at least five years, Trifonov said.

"This is just the next step in the road," he said.

No matter how big a step it is, though, the road does lead to perfect encryption thanks to quantum computing, according to both Trifonov and others.

Quantum encryption will offer unbreakable codes thanks to the laws of physics, particularly the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, said Burt Kalinski, chief scientist at RSA Security Inc., located in Bedford, Massachusetts. That principle, in essence, holds that you can't observe a particle, in this case a photon, without altering it in some way. Because the particles being used in a quantum encryption scheme would be changed by an observer or eavesdropper attempting to view them, the encryption would be perfect, Kalinski said.

Furthermore, Trifonov said, attempting to crack a quantum encryption scheme would change the photons so much as to make them useless to the eavesdropper.

"There is no way to (try to crack the scheme) without introducing error," he said.

Magiq has a quantum encryption product in development now that will be released by the end of the year, he added.

Quantum physics may also be used to create quantum computers, systems that would easily be able to break current encryption systems which are based on large computational problems that would be overcome by the speed of such computers, said RSA's Kalinski. But those sorts of systems are a ways off, he said.

"No one knows how to build (them) on a scale to make it practical," he said, comparing the current state of quantum computing to that of processor design thirty years ago.

Nonetheless, the Australian work "shows that there are applications for the general area of quantum information processing," said Andy Hammond, the vice president of marketing at Magiq. But the Australian announcement won't have an immediate impact, he said.

The research "certainly may yield a new generation of quantum cryptography (at some point)...but we're not stopping our guys down in the lab," he said.

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