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China has proven itself able to use quantum cryptography to produce what are essentially unhackable transmissions.
A Chinese group of researchers called the Quantum Experiments at Space Scale project, or QUESS, launched a quantum cryptography satellite into orbit in August last year.
This satellite has enabled the QUESS project to send quantum-encrypted messages from earth to the satellite — a record-setting distance of 1200 kilometers.
What is quantum cryptography?
But what makes this particular kind of encryption preferable to regular encryption?
Right now, regular encryption is generally considered safe since our computer technology hasn’t reached that level of sophistication. But some scientists predict that when quantum computing does become fully developed, traditional methods of encryption will no longer suffice to keep information secret.
According to the theory, quantum computers will move beyond our current computers, which rely on mathematics. Quantum computers will rely on the physical properties of sub-atomic particles. That’s why they are looking into methods of quantum encryption, which will be able to stand up to attempts to decode transmissions using quantum computers.
The specific technology the QUESS project used is called quantum key distribution, or QKD. Quantum encrypted messages are encrypted using a key generated by sending a random stream of photons between two communicating users. This method of encryption is essentially unbreakable because the behavior of photons is largely random, and because photons cannot be observed without interfering with their behavior and alerting the communicating parties.
You can learn more about quantum cryptography here.
What does this mean for the future of computing?
Not only is quantum cryptography a safe method of communication, it is also a tremendously effective one which is able to handle massive amounts of information. In the future, China envisages a whole network of people using quantum satellites to communicate at unprecedented levels of safety and speed.
QKD will allow people to send secret messages as never before. But many people worry that quantum cryptography will prove a mixed blessing. It will make it harder to hack into encrypted messages, yes. But what if a government needs to decrypt information for purposes of national security? Friends and enemies alike will be protected in this coming age of computers.