Quantum cryptography to protect Swiss election

时间:2019-03-01 08:08:01166网络整理admin

By Paul Marks Quantum cryptography is to be used to protect a Swiss election against hacking or accidental data corruption. But some electoral technology experts warn that this novel approach does not address the most vulnerable aspects of an election. When federal elections take place in the State of Geneva on 21 October 2007, the transmission of results from a data entry centre – where paper votes are keyed into computers – to the state government’s central data repository in Geneva will be secured using a quantum connection. The aim, says Geneva state chancellor Robert Hensler, is to “verify that data has not been corrupted in transit between entry and storage”. Quantum cryptography harnesses quantum mechanics to generate an encryption key – a secret sequences of 0s and 1s – in such a way that a hacker cannot intercept it without being detected. This key can then be used to scramble a message and decode it at the receiving end. To generate a quantum key one party sends a sequence of randomly-generated photons to a recipient over optical fibre. Each key photon is polarised in one of two directions to represent either a 0 or a 1. A certain subset of these quantum bits – or qubits – is then used as the encryption key. If an eavesdropper intercepts any part of the key, the laws of quantum mechanics ensure that they give themselves away by disturbing the photons’ polarisation. Quantum cryptography was first proposed in 1984, but it has taken researchers decades to bring the concept to market. Designing the equipment needed to create, manipulate and detect single photons has been tough. It has also been difficult to demonstrate that the theoretical security scheme works in practice. Three companies pioneering the field – BBN Technologies of Boston, US; MagiQ of New York, US; and ID Quantique of Geneva, Switzerland. These companies have all trialled quantum cryptography systems with customers including banks and other financial institutions. Some experts say military and intelligence communities regularly use such systems. But the Geneva election is the first time a government organisation has openly said it is using the technique. The ID Quantique quantum cryptography system cost €100,000 (£69,209). “Conventional security systems like RSA encryption techniques are based on the belief that nobody has the computing power to work out the huge prime numbers needed to break them,” says Marc Hentsch, an infosecurity engineer with ID Quantique. “Our only assumption is that the laws of quantum physics are correct.” But David Dill of Stanford University in California, an expert on electronic voting technologies, says using quantum cryptography will not provide total security. “The transmission of the vote tallies is not the major vulnerability,” he says. “In polling stations, or people using remote voting systems, it doesn’t do anything about malicious software on the voting machines.” Scott Aaronson, a quantum information scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, says using quantum cryptography is no bad idea, “provided extravagant claims aren’t made for it – as alas, they no doubt will be.” Quantum technology may eventually be used more widely, though. After the 21 October elections, Swiss regional governments will begin planning how it might fit with their plans for e-voting, which include perhaps allowing people to vote via a web browser. More on these topics: