Startup to apply quantum mechanics to protect data in fiber-optic cables

A startup called Quantum Xchange has struck a deal giving it access to some 500 miles of fiber-optic cable running along the east coast of the U.S. to conduct trials of a new data transmission method. The system leverages quantum mechanics to encrypt data in a manner that would destroy that data if it were spied on, thereby, in theory, protecting the data from attacks on the network infrastructure.

One of the most damning discoveries to emerge from the Edward Snowden revelations of 2013 was that the NSA had reportedly tapped into undersea fiber cables in order to facilitate its wholesale spying efforts on U.S. citizens. Driven by concerns over overzealous oversight from domestic sources, and foreign threats, Quantum Xchange is looking to pioneer a new way of securing data that should make it unreadable to anyone but its intended recipient(s).

It’s developing what it describes as a quantum key distribution (QKD) network. It encrypts the content (here’s how that works) using a quantum bit, known as a qubit. As TechnologyReview describes it, the data itself is protected by the encryption and the qubit key is protected through the fragility within its quantum state. If it were spied on by a party it wasn’t intended for, that would wipe out all the information it carries, thereby making it impossible to snoop on. Better yet, the attempted intrusion would be obvious and detectable.

To facilitate this kind of technology, the QKD will need to set up trusted nodes along the data’s route which act a little like repeaters to boost the signal. There will be 13 of those over the length of the test network that Quantum Xchange is creating.

Named “Phio,” the new network will be used first by banking and other business institutions to shepherd information between New York City and New Jersey. If the project proves successful, Quantum Xchange expects to expand its usage and expand the network in the future.

“We are incredibly excited about the launch of Phio for commercial use,” said Quantum XChange’s CEO and president, John Prisco. “It has raised the bar for modern-day encryption and key exchange, especially now as we sit on the cusp of quantum computers becoming a reality. This technology is essential for every organization that needs unbreakable encryption to keep their mission-critical data safe over any transmission distance – from banking, critical infrastructure, and healthcare organizations to telecommunications and government agencies.”

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