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China may send the first unhackable messages with quantum encryption

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As institutions and governments around the world continue to push for greater hacking protections while also pursuing stronger surveillance powers, China is opting for a quantum encryption solution which could soon see it sending unhackable communications worldwide. To make this possible, it will launch the first quantum communications satellite in the world at some point in July.

Quantum communication encryption is a unique method of encoding the content of a message. Much like traditional encryption, it uses a key to make that content unreadable, but unlike traditional keys which can he hacked given enough time and processing power, quantum keys simply cannot be hacked.

Given the very nature of quantum mechanics, merely viewing the key itself would change its composition. As IBTimes puts it, if two people share a message encrypted by a key made up of quantum particles, if a third person intercepts it, that key will change in an unpredictable way. That not only means the message cannot be read by someone else, but that those sending and receiving would be made aware of the snooping.

To make this a reality, China needs this satellite launch. The nation has almost completed construction of a 1,240 mile quantum network between Beijing and Shanghai, with plans to utilize the network to send sensitive diplomatic data and military information, though its use may be expanded in the future.

China isn’t the only country looking to build quantum communication networks, however. The U.S., Japan, Canada, and several governments in Europe are all pushing to develop networks of their own.

While the countries involved have mentioned hackers as the reason they are developing such secretive networks, it seems likely that the hacking worries relate to other nations, not bedroom coders with inquisitive minds. In recent years the U.S. and China, among other nations, have sparred with one another in the press about ongoing cyber warfare between them.

It will be interesting to see if the proliferation of quantum communications networks makes that harder to achieve, or if we will just see new hacking methods arise.

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Jon Martindale
Jon Martindale is the Evergreen Coordinator for Computing, overseeing a team of writers addressing all the latest how to…
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