Dutch scientists use quantum physics to design ‘unhackable’ credit cards

This week, a new report published in the journal Optica by a team of Dutch researchers indicates that quantum encryption would be virtually “unhackable” and is not that far off in credit card applications. The technology, called “quantum cryptography, harnesses the unique properties of subatomic particles to thwart would-be hackers and identity thieves.

Scientists at the University of Twente and Eindhoven University of Technology say they are a step closer to delivering quantum-secure authentication (QSA)of a “classical multiple-scattering key.” Such a key is deciphered and authenticated with a pulse of light consisting of fewer photons than degrees of freedom. Then the spatial shape of the reflected light is detected and verified. It is basically unhackable, “even if all information about the key is publicly known.” The characteristics of quantum physics principles prevent the optical response to the key from being mimicked or emulated.

In other words, security would no longer depend on secrecy or weak mathematical assumptions. QSA takes advantage of quantum mechanics to offer an absolute encryption scheme. A strip of nanoparticles could be added to a credit card or passport, and the strip would be illuminated with a laser to generate a unique reflection pattern that cannot be hacked.

The approach would be “straightforward to implement with current technology,” according to study lead author Pepijn Pinkse. “It would be like dropping 10 bowling balls onto the ground and creating 200 separate impacts. It’s impossible to know precisely what information was sent (what pattern was created on the floor) just by collecting the 10 bowling balls.”

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