Hacking the Chinese government may have just gotten a littler harder. State news outlet China Daily claims that 200 Chinese officials in Shandong now have a quantum encrypted network at their disposal for secure phone calls and data transmission.
It’s not yet clear exactly how the new system works. But it's likely based on a quirk of quantum mechanics that allows two particles, like photons, to be entangled so that changes to one affect the other, even at a distance. That’s promising for encryption: send a crypto key using the particles and eavesdropping is easy to spot, as any inspection of the particle changes its properties.
China has been pushing hard to advance its own quantum communication systems recently. This year, some of the nation’s researchers have reported a string of successful experiments demonstrating their ability to entangle quantum particles over huge distances and in space.
The new network would appear to put that kind of research into practice, though it seems to be very much Earth-bound. China Daily notes that "hundreds of pieces of equipment connected by hundreds of kilometers of fiber optics were installed within five months" to get it working.
Western countries have been working on quantum networking for years. But, if the reports are accurate, this is, to our knowledge, the first time that a working quantum network has been put to real-world use for communications, rather than being confined to experiments.