Security of Internet communications and online financial transactions rests upon the complexity of the underlying cipher algorithms that encrypt secure traffic. But as the possibilities of quantum computing become more real - which may in the not too distant future putting the equivalent of today's super-computer into a laptop - we've begun to realize that today's secure communications my not remain so secure in the years ahead, not when met with a fantastic leap in computing power.

Even now, with the advent of cloud or distributed computing and specific hacking chips, the continued security of traditional encryption becomes ever more uncertain.

The solution, according to some cipher experts, is to be found in what is dubbed quantum cryptography, or quantum key distribution. This uses principles of quantum mechanics to guarantee secure communication by enabling two parties to produce a shared random bit string known only to them. This can then be used as a key to encrypt and decrypt messages.

Quantum communication involves encoding information in quantum states, or qubits, as opposed to classical communication's use of bits. Usually, photons are used for these quantum states. Quantum cryptography exploits certain properties of these quantum states to ensure its security using several different possible approaches.

Without belaboring the finer technical details here, quantum cryptography harness principles of fundamental physics for its security rather than assumptions about the computer power resources available to a potential adversary. Combined with the quantum key distribution (QKD) and the "one-time pad" algorithm, quantum cryptography can establish unconditional secure communication between legal users, for now and the future.

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Blake Harris  |  Contributing Editor