We’ve seen it countless times in the TV shows and movies that we watch: someone with a hood covering their face types rapidly on a keyboard and random code appears on their green computer screen. It looks like gibberish to most of us. The person hits one final key – “Enter”. Suddenly, they’ve successfully hacked into one of the government’s most secure systems (e.g., the NSA or the FBI), causing death and destruction through cyberterrorism.
Hollywood has a way of romanticizing or glorifying the reality of hacking. The process is actually a lot more difficult than it sounds and happens far less often than you’d expect. Governments employ software engineers – or “hackers” – to protect their mainframes from potential cyberattacks.
The majority of criminal cyberattacks, then, actually involve the average home computer, not advanced government systems. Inexperienced users who go to places like the dark web are those at the highest risk of being hacked.
Sounds scary, right? What if there was a form of internet that was virtually unhackable?
The Quantum Internet
While the internet is generally safe due to the process of encryption that many websites go through, there’s a point where they might be open to potential hacks. As information is transmitted between computers and servers, there’s a point where it can be intercepted. If there are any noticeable vulnerabilities in the code, a hacker can exploit them and invade a user’s system.
Over the last couple of years, there have been plans to create internet that transmits so fast, it’s virtually impossible to hack. This is because it travels faster than the speed of light! Through a process called quantum superposition, a particle can exist in two different states at once, creating tighter security.
Of course, it’s not quite ready for the public yet. This is because quantum internet would require a great deal of network equipment in place. Our current infrastructure isn’t compatible with quantum internet, meaning it will have to practically be developed from scratch, unfortunately.
Where It’ll Exist and When Will It Be Ready?
Researchers in the Netherlands are currently building a network that will connect four cities in the Netherlands exclusively with quantum technology. The tech will rely on a process called quantum entanglement in which the photons that transfer data “can’t be covertly read without disrupting their content”. This could mean that quantum internet will be available throughout several areas of Europe in the near future.
China has also recently finished a quantum internet project stretching from Beijing to Shanghai, though it doesn’t exclusively use quantum tech. That means while cyberattacks are a lot less likely, there are still some vulnerabilties that attentive hackers will eventually be able to exploit. China may be working towards true quantum internet soon, however.
Other countries have already developed strategies that they hope to receive funding for. The United States Department of Energy (DOE), for instance, “lay[ed] out a blueprint strategy for the development of a national quantum internet” at a press conference that took place at the University of Chicago.
Similarly, Canada is working on its own research into quantum internet using infrastructure from space launches which will cover a larger radius than on land. Professor Thomas Jennewein of the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) is leading a project that will have a network transmit a signal to a microsatellite, which is then transmitted to another microsatellite over a long distance, and finally to the second network.
Any “attack, manipulation, or copying of the photons can be immediately detected and overcome”, meaning user data will safely be able to travel distances up to 200 km. It will supposedly even be able to transfer over hostile territory without any risk!
This news comes with a significant but – we will be waiting at least five years before seeing any of this implemented worldwide. And when it finally comes to market, governments will definitely have access to it first. For the rest of us, we might be waiting a long time before quantum internet arrives and we can feel entirely safe with our online activity.
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