Security

China sends 'unbreakable code' from quantum satellite to Earth

A new satellite has been able to transmit 'unbreakable' code in an effort to build 'hack-proof' communications, according to Chinese state media.

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Image: iStockphoto/Nastco

A quantum satellite launched by Chinese scientists has officially transmitted "unbreakable" code back to Earth, Chinese state media reported on Thursday. According to the report, the accomplishment is the first time quantum key distribution has occurred from a satellite to the ground.

The quantum satellite was originally launched on August 15, 2016, with the goal of eventually developing a "hack-proof" communications system. Because the satellite sends messages with entangled photons, any attempt to eavesdrop or intercept messages would disturb the photons and alert the sender. In theory, then, it would be impossible to hack, Xinhua initially reported.

Communications were sent from the satellite to two ground stations—one in Xinglong and the other in Nanshan near Urumqi, the report said. The transmissions were made from distances that varied from 645 km to 1,200 km.

SEE: Defending against cyberwar: How the cybersecurity elite are working to prevent a digital apocalypse (free PDF)

When the satellite comes into position over China, the report said, it provides 10 minutes of time in which the quantum key transmission experiments can be conducted. Pan Jianwei, lead scientist on the experiment from the state-run Chinese Academy of Sciences, was quoted by the state media saying that, during that time, 300 kbit secure keys are both generated and sent.

"That, for instance, can meet the demand of making an absolute safe phone call or transmitting a large amount of bank data," Pan said in the Xinhua report.

If the satellite-based quantum key distribution from these experiments could be integrated with quantum networks in major metro areas, it could enable quantum cryptography on a global scale, Pan said in the Xinhua report.

The satellite is nicknamed "Micius," after a Chinese scientist who performed optical experiments in the 5th century BC. The satellite weighs more than 600 kg, or greater than 1,322 pounds.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. A Chinese satellite has transmitted an "unbreakable" code back to earth that could pave the way for "hack-proof" communications, Chinese state media reported.
  2. The satellite sends messages with entangled photons, which becomes disturbed if eavesdropping or message interception is attempted.
  3. The experiment could be used to develop a global quantum cryptography system, if integrated with other quantum networks.

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About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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