Read More: Newsweek
The Nazis knew secret communication was the key to world domination. Their prize technology was the electromechanical Enigma machine, an encryption device that allowed German tank divisions, embassies and even submarines to send scrambled radio messages to the Reich during World War II. They believed their system was unbreakable. It was—until a young British mathematician named Alan Turing realized that the signal could be unscrambled if he could create a machine to systematically try thousands of key combinations that would eventually hit upon an intelligible message. The result was the world’s first computer. Britain’s ability to read Germany’s secret codes was a crucial factor in the Allies’ victory. Now, thanks to a technology called quantum encryption, the dream of perfectly secure communication is real. It could help free the world from online fraud and identity theft, hacking attacks and electronic eavesdropping. It could also enable terrorists and criminals to communicate with absolute secrecy—and governments to hide their secrets without anyone ever finding out. In a world of unbreakable encryption, all human electronic communication could become entirely private—with mind-boggling consequences, both good and bad, for cybersecurity. On September 29, that world came significantly closer to reality. A team of cryptographers and physicists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences held a half-hour video call with their counterparts in Vienna using quantum encryption, a technology that makes it impossible to hack or overhear communications. The new encryption standard “is what has me most excited, and most worried, of all recent technological innovations,” says a senior U.K. intelligence official not authorized to speak on the record. “It’s a world-changer.” And at the moment, experts say, while the major technical innovations in quantum technology are still being produced in such Western institutions as IBM in Armonk, New York, the University of California (backed by Google) and the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands (backed by the European Union), it’s the Chinese who are far ahead in terms of implementation.