Scientists are shooting lasers through diamonds, ostensibly to create random sequences to improve digital encryption but also because as if you wouldn’t do the same thing when presented the chance.
Shooting a laser through a diamond produces a “random polarisation state”, making truly random patterns that are impossible to predict.
Randomness is a surprisingly key ingredient in computing and technology, especially in the field of cryptography.
This is used to secure things like your communications or transactions by scrambling or “encrypting” data so that it can only be deciphered by those who have the key.
Facebook’s WhatsApp as an example uses end-to-end encryption to seal up your message on your end and decipher it at the recipient’s, so that it can’t be read if it’s on Facebook’s servers (where the company promises it doesn’t stay) or if its intercepted in transit without the code.
With fields like digital finance, mobile networking and cloud infrastructure becoming more mainstream, encryption similarly becomes more important.
Previously, encryption has relied on things like random number generators, but research is now turning towards using the emerging advances in quantum computing to improve security.
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As opposed to binary computing, where all data is represented as a “bit” of either a one or zero, in quantum computing the “qubits” can be one, zero, or both at the same time (known as “superposition”).
In encryption that relies on quantum key distribution, the two ends of the encryption “handshake” are able to tell if a third party is watching them because it has to “measure” the key, thereby introducing “anomalies” that disturb the quantum system, like a burglar alarm going off.
Researchers from the Macquarie University Photonics Research Centre in the department of physics and biology recently published their research of using the laser device with a diamond in the journal Optics Express.
The report found laser sources were viable alternatives to methods currently used for quantum-key distribution, reducing the system’s complexity by reducing the reliance on external data while also improving security.
“This is an entirely new tool for producing quantum randomness” lead researcher Dr Doug Little said.
“We are hoping this type of device will provide end-users in fields such as encryption and quantum simulation with a new option for simplifying and enhancing their technology.”
“A fascinating aspect of this laser is that the degree of randomness can be tuned by tweaking the orientation of the diamond. In future, this will allow us to study the transition from quantum randomness to classical determinism in a systematic manner; which could have implications that go beyond lasers and their applications,” Dr Little said.