Dutch researchers says we’re closer to making such technology a practical reality.

Imagine credit cards and ID cards which could never be hacked. That’s the promise of quantum cryptography, which harnesses peculiar properties of subatomic particles to thwart data thieves.

Now a team of Dutch researchers says we’re closer to making such technology a practical reality.

Publishing in the current issue of Optica, scientists at the University of Twente and Eindhoven University of Technology describe what they call quantum-secure authentication (QSA) of a “classical multiple-scattering key.”

To decipher and authenticate the key, the team illuminated it with “a light pulse containing fewer photons than spatial degrees of freedom and verifying the spatial shape of the reflected light.” The upshot is that a would-be hacker couldn’t crack the encrypted data “even if all information about the key is publicly known,” because the principles of quantum physics prevent the optical response to the key from being emulated.

Which is to say that instead of depending on people keeping a secret or “unproven mathematical assumptions,” QSA leverages the immutable properties of quantum mechanics to create a perfectly secure encryption system.

Quantum Security Authentication/Credit: Pepijn Pinkse

The immediate application of the technology would be to add a “strip of nanoparticles” to a credit card or passport, noted Discovery News. To verify the authenticity of the strip, you’d “zap [it] with a laser in such a way as to create a unique pattern that’s impossible to crack.”

Such a security layer would be “straightforward to implement with current technology,” according to study lead author Pepijn Pinkse of the University of Twente’s MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology.

Pinkse offered a way to visualize how QSA works in an accompanying report seen by Discovery News.

“It would be like dropping 10 bowling balls onto the ground and creating 200 separate impacts. It’s impossible to know precisely what information was sent (what pattern was created on the floor) just by collecting the 10 bowling balls,” the scientist was quoted as saying.

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