British researchers have created a new encryption method based on atomic scale imperfections that cannot be spoofed.
Using next-generation nanomaterials, a team from Lancaster University was able to determine unique atomic IDs that could be used to identify any type of object.
“The invention involves the creation of devices with unique identities on a nano-scale employing state-of-art quantum technology,” explained Jonathan Roberts, a Lancaster University Physics PhD student and first author of a study published today in Nature’s Scientific Reports. “Each device we’ve made is unique, 100 per cent secure and impossible to copy or clone.”
Unlike existing authentication methods such as anti-counterfeit tags, holograms or passwords, the new devices, called Q-ID, cannot be forged or breached as they are based on elementary blocks of matter, which cannot be manipulated. This, the researchers said, makes the technology the most secure ever made.
“Simulating these structures requires vast computing power and is not achievable in a reasonable timescale, even with a quantum computer,” the researchers wrote in the article. “When coupled with the fact that the underlying structure is unknown, unless dismantled atom-by-atom, this makes simulation extremely difficult.”
The team has patented the technology and wants to commercialise it through the spin-out company Quantum Base. The device, which can be incorporated into any type of material, is CMOS-compatible and can be integrated into existing manufacturing processes, the researchers said.
“One could imagine our devices being used to identify a broad range of products, whether it is authentication of branded goods, SIM cards, important manufacturing components, the possibilities are endless,” said Robert Young, the research leader at Lancaster University and co-founder of Quantum Base.
The new devices also have many additional features such as the ability to track-and-trace a product throughout the supply chain, and individual addressability, allowing for marketing and quality control at the point of consumption.
“Q-IDs markedly increase the security gap between the good guys and the bad guys; this is truly a step change in authentication and authorisation,” said Phil Speed co-founder of Quantum Base. “Lancaster University and Quantum base have created devices that are the smallest, the most secure and the cheapest possible today and we are looking forward to talking to prospective markets and customers alike to bring this new, cutting-edge, great British technology into mass market adoption."