Skip to Content
Computing

A super-secure quantum internet just took another step closer to reality

August 22, 2019
atom symbol
atom symbol
atom symbolAP

Scientists have managed to send a record-breaking amount of data in quantum form, using a strange unit of quantum information called a qutrit.

The news: Quantum tech promises to allow data to be sent securely over long distances. Scientists have already shown it’s possible to transmit information both on land and via satellites using quantum bits, or qubits. Now physicists at the University of Science and Technology of China and the University of Vienna in Austria have found a way to ship even more data using something called quantum trits, or qutrits.

Qutrits? Oh, come on, you’ve just made that up: Nope, they’re real. Conventional bits used to encode everything from financial records to YouTube videos are streams of electrical or photonic pulses than can represent either a or a 0. Qubits, which are typically electrons or photons, can carry more information because they can be polarized in two directions at once, so they can represent both a and a 0 at the same time. Qutrits, which can be polarized in three different dimensions simultaneously, can carry even more information. In theory, this can then be transmitted using quantum teleportation.

Quantum … what? Quantum teleportation is a method for shipping data that relies on an almost-mystical phenomenon called entanglement. Entangled quantum particles can influence one another’s state, even if they are continents apart. In teleportation, a sender and receiver each receive one of a pair of entangled qubits. The sender measures the interaction of their qubit with another one that holds data they want to send. By applying the results of this measurement to the other entangled qubit, the receiver can work out what information has been transmitted. (For a more detailed look at quantum teleportation, see our explainer here.)

Measuring progress: Getting this to work with qubits isn’t easy—and harnessing qutrits is even harder because of that extra dimension. But the researchers, who include Jian-Wei Pan, a Chinese pioneer of quantum communication, say they have cracked the problem by tweaking the first part of the teleportation process so that senders have more measurement information to pass on to receivers. This will make it easier for the latter to work out what data has been teleported over. The research was published in the journal Physical Review Letters.

Deterring hackers: This might seem rather esoteric, but it has huge implications for cybersecurity. Hackers can snoop on conventional bits flowing across the internet without leaving a trace. But interfering with quantum units of information causes them to lose their delicate quantum state, leaving a telltale sign of hacking. If qutrits can be harnessed at scale, they could form the backbone of an ultra-secure quantum internet that could be used to send highly sensitive government and commercial data.

Deep Dive

Computing

child outside a destroyed residential building in Kiev
child outside a destroyed residential building in Kiev

Russia hacked an American satellite company one hour before the Ukraine invasion

The attack on Viasat showcases cyber’s emerging role in modern warfare.

hacked telecom concept
hacked telecom concept

Chinese hackers exploited years-old software flaws to break into telecom giants

A multi-year hacking campaign shows how dangerous old flaws can linger for years.

inflection point post-NSO concept
inflection point post-NSO concept

The hacking industry faces the end of an era

But even if NSO Group is no more, there are plenty of rivals who will rush in to take its place. And the same old problems haven’t gone away.

stock image of robots in a car plant
stock image of robots in a car plant

Transforming the automotive supply chain for the 21st century

Cloud-based tech solutions are helping manufacturers manage a new ecosystem of suppliers with greater agility and resilience.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.