Can you keep a secret?
Seals have been used for centuries to prove something is authentic.
If you wanted to send a secure message in the Middle Ages, you’d seal it with wax.
When the recipient got it, if the seal was broken, they’d know it had been intercepted.
Sure, at this point, there wouldn’t be a lot they could do about it. But at least they would know the message had been leaked.
It seems a lot of people don’t realise this, but secure messaging is fundamental to today’s society.
And I don’t mean in the sense of individuals keeping their communications private. I mean as in keeping our information secure.
Without secure communications, you wouldn’t be able to pay for anything online. There would be no Amazon or Netflix. There wouldn’t even be online banking.
The need for secure messaging isn’t really about individual liberty, it’s about allowing business and commerce to operate.
So advancements in this area mean big things for industry. And today, I’m going to explain one of the biggest secure messaging breakthroughs we’ve ever had.
But first, let’s look at how secure messaging works at a basic level.
How WhatsApp secures your messages
One of the most common and most secure is to use end-to-end encryption.
It works by using a public and private key combination.
These two keys are created together. Only the private key can decrypt messages that were encrypted using the public key.
This is how encrypted messaging in WhatsApp and other services works. You’ll notice that at the start of any WhatsApp chat, it will say “messages to this chat and calls are now secured with end-to-end encryption”.
What that means is, both parties have shared their public keys with each other, and any messages sent will be encrypted with those keys.
If someone intercepts the messages, or if they are stored on a server and the server gets hacked, the messages will just look like gibberish.
The only way to decrypt them is with the corresponding private keys, which are only stored on your phone, and not on a server or network.
If you invest in crypto, you’ll probably already be aware of public and private keys.
When you send crypto, you send it to someone’s “public address”. This is their public key.
They then use their private key to get access to the crypto you’ve sent them.
It’s the same principle as secure messaging,
What happens if someone steals your private key?
The problem we run into with this type of encryption is, what if someone has managed to copy your private key without you knowing?
Now if they intercept your messages, they will be able to decrypt them with your private key.
A private is just a series of characters that can be copied and pasted like any other series of characters.
And what’s more, you have no way of knowing if someone has copied your private key or not, how could you?
Well, that’s where quantum physics can help.
A wax seal for digital messaging
A few weeks ago I wrote a piece explaining how quantum computing works, and tried to answer the question of if it really will break all our current encryption.
Well, while researching that, I discovered that quantum theory can be used to secure messages, as well as crack them.
And it all goes back to that wax seal.
As I wrote in my quantum computing article, quantum matter changes its state when observed.
So, if you are using quantum matter to send a message, if it is intercepted it will change state.
Just like the wax seal, the message will look different to how it should if it has been opened.
The thing is, also just like the wax seal, this can only help you after the event. So it’s not really that much use.
However, when we combine it with end-to-end encryption, it becomes unbackable. At least in theory.
How to achieve truly secure messaging
So we can tell if our messages have been intercepted, but we can’t do anything to stop them being intercepted before we find out.
The solution then is to use the quantum messaging to share your private keys.
Give both parties the same private key and share them with quantum messaging.
If anyone else intercepts the keys, both parties will know, and they can just use a new key instead.
Here’s how Scientific American described it in 2013:
A device in a satellite creates entangled photon pairs and simultaneously transmits one of each pair to two ground stations in beams of millions of photons, all in entangled quantum states. That means both stations should have the same key.
The two stations would compare them. If the transmissions were not intercepted or modified by an eavesdropper, the two keys should be identical. The sender can then send a conventionally encrypted message secure in the knowledge no one is listening.
But, if there is any alteration in the keys, which would happen if anyone intercepted the key message, Heisenberg’s theory would strike, and the photons would be altered. The two parties would know if there was an eavesdropper and either resend the keys or try another system.
Several corporations and government research facilities around the world are working on similar satellite systems.
The reason I’m citing such an old article, aside from the fact it gives a great explanation of how secure quantum messaging works, is because things have moved on since 2013.
What was just a theory in 2013 was proven to work in 2017
In 2017 Chinese scientists managed to prove that quantum messaging really does work.
As Nature wrote last June:
Just months into its mission, the world’s first quantum-communications satellite has achieved one of its most ambitious goals.
Researchers report in Science1 that, by beaming photons between the satellite and two distant ground stations, they have shown that particles can remain in a linked quantum state at a record-breaking distance of more than 1,200 kilometres. That phenomenon, known as quantum entanglement, could be used as the basis of a future secure quantum-communications network.
I often read about things that are being developed right now, but that won’t be around for a number of years.
So it was good to research quantum messaging for this article, and then find out it had already been proven and developed.
But one thing does stick out to me about this “impossible” to crack method of messaging.
In a real-world situation, it would be fairly easy to intercept.
Don’t hack the message, hack the person sending it
It’s true that these quantum secure messages would be, in theory at least, impossible to hack. But you wouldn’t need to.
Any system is only as strong as its weakest link. And in this case, it’s the people sending and receiving the messages.
Those people could be compromised for far less money and with far less hassle than trying to break the laws of physics.
Still. For purely machine-to-machine messaging, it would be unbreakable. And I’m sure we’ll see it used in some very novel ways in the coming years.
It may be complex, but quantum messaging is destined to play a big part in the future of communication, which is fundamental to every business on the planet. For that reason, I think it’s worth learning about.
And that’s before we even get into using quantum entanglement to communicate instantly, over any distance…
But that’s a topic for another day.
Until next time,
Editor, Exponential Investor