National Physical Laboratory

Quantum cryptography prevents financial fraud

NPL is working on technologies to underpin the security of online shopping and international financial transactions.

Quantum cryptography

Quantum cryptography uses our knowledge of physics to develop a security system that can't be beaten without the knowledge of those sending and receiving data. It relies on physics rather than mathematics.

The word quantum refers to the most fundamental behaviour of the smallest particles of matter and energy. Quantum cryptography works because information is transmitted in the smallest units of light energy - photons.

The laws of quantum mechanics mean these photons can't be cloned - so an eavesdropper on a secure transmission can be immediately detected. The unconditional security guaranteed by quantum cryptography is of enormous interest to financial institutions, which go to great lengths to protect the integrity of data and billions of pounds of daily transactions.

Quantum cryptography will also underpin the emerging technology of quantum computing. Quantum cryptography products are already commercially available, but they aren't supported by standards or certification from national measurement institutes such as NPL.

Anticipating the need for standards, NPL undertaking a three-year research project (Entangled Photons in Quantum Metrology) for the UK's National Measurement System, in collaboration with the semiconductor physics group at Cambridge University and the solid state physics group at Imperial College.

The project may give NPL and the UK an important role when international standards for quantum cryptography are negotiated and agreed.

Further information contact Alastair Sinclair

Find out more about NPL's research in Defence & Security and Quantum Phenomena

Last Updated: 8 Oct 2012
Created: 12 Nov 2010

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