Ottawa researchers aim to make future computers less hackable

Computer scientists believe that even the strongest data encryption of present-day computers won’t stand a chance against their quantum heirs.

Not that quantum computers — the still-theoretical machines that read and process more advanced information than the digital 1s and 0s of today’s computers — don’t have their own weaknesses. But researchers at the University of Ottawa performing cutting-edge work are already making the computers of the future less hackable.

The team, led by professor Ebrahim Karimi of the university’s physics department, has accomplished what they believe is a world first in quantum mechanics: They’ve shown how quantum computers, which are supposedly unhackable, can still have some of their information stolen. And they’ve shown how to defend against these hacks.

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It’s easy to copy information from a conventional computer because its basic data unit, the bit, is binary — it’s either a 1 or a 0. But a quantum computer’s data unit, a quantum bit, or qubit, can be at least two things at once: a one, a zero or both.

Simply copying qubits, Karimi said, changes how they present themselves. And that’s why quantum computers are supposed to be unhackable: any copied data will have changed in the copying.

“But,” Karimi said, “you can have a protocol with which you can get some information. We call this cloning.”

Only imperfect clones of quantum data are possible: some information will survive the process intact; some will be corrupted. The uOttawa team discovered that cloning can be made much more difficult and less reliable through the deployment of high-dimensional particles, which can do everything qubits can do and more: they can present as 2s, 3s or 4s, and more, in addition to 1s and 0s. 

The research team found that the higher dimension particles produce lower-quality clones.

 “The conclusion was that if you want to be less hackable, it is better to go to higher dimensions,” said Karimi.

This article originally appeared in Metro News.

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