According to state-run media and the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), China has launched the first ever quantum satellite, making history and signifying the beginning of a non-hackable communications network.
Developed by a team of Chinese and Austrian scientists, the satellite is named after the fifth century BC Chinese scientist ‘Micius.’ Engadget reports that Micius apparently contains a crystal that encodes data and encryption keys in quantum particles beamed back to earth.
Common techniques for encryption are moot on a quantum-enabled network, as it relies on the laws of physics, rather than algorithms such as Triple DES, RSA and Blowfish.
Ground bases that have been authorised to do so can read the encoded data – if anyone else attempts it, the particles are destroyed and the information contained is lost.
Reporting to the WSJ, Gregoir Ribordy of Geneva-based quantum cryptography firm ID Quantique said: “If someone tries to intercept [a particle] when it's being transmitted, by touching it, they make it burst.”
The authorised bases will be aware if someone tries to read or tamper with the data as their computers consistently monitor any change in the particles’ state. Engadget reports that a quantum-enabled network will significantly improve China's defenses against cyber spies deployed by other superpowers, yet it won't boost the country's ability to launch cyberattacks.
There has been a lack in investment from other governments in the US, Japan, Canada and parts of Europe to drive development of their own quantum communications systems.
China's state media did not include the price of building Micius, yet the WSJ notes that $101 billion was spent in just the research phase.
Once the satellite is ready, the system will be tested to see if it can successfully beam data to ground bases in Beijing and Vienna. If results are positive, 19 more satellites are planned for deployment, and they will form a network to cover the planet.