This might be the biggest tech humblebrag ever. A team of scientists at Los Alamos National Labs has quietly shrugged its shoulders and admitted to the fact that, yeah, it's been using quantum internet for, like, the last two years. Whatever.
Steady on there, cowboy! If you're not familiar with the concept of a quantum internet, then you should be. The dream of many a security expert, it's a concept that uses the laws of quantum mechanics to create perfectly secure online communication. The idea is that measuring a characteristic of a quantum object — like a photon — always changes it, so attempts to intercept messages screws them up and renders them incomprehensible.
Problem is, most quantum internet solutions only allow messages to be sent between two locations, and not routed elsewhere. That's because working out where it's supposed to be routed changes the state of the quantum message and turns it into junk.
But the team from Los Alamos National Labs in New Mexico has revealed that it has a different kind of quantum internet — that it's been using for the past two years. Technology Review describes how it works:
Their approach is to create a quantum network based around a hub and spoke-type network. All messages get routed from any point in the network to another via this central hub... The idea is that messages to the hub rely on the usual level of quantum security. However, once at the hub, they are converted to conventional classical bits and then reconverted into quantum bits to be sent on the second leg of their journey. So as long as the hub is secure, then the network should also be secure.
While that technique could be hindered by scalability, the team claims to have overcome that problem by equipping each node in the network with quantum transmitters, but not detectors. With only the hub capable of receiving quantum messages, it gets one-time messages from nodes which it uses to set up secure data transfer via a normal internet protocol.
The result isn't necessarily true quantum internet — but it offers a comparable level of security. And you know, has worked for two years. The only issue, of course, is the security of that central hub — and it remains to be seen whether that centralised point of risk will stop the Los Alamos solution hitting the mainstream. [arXiv via Technology Review]