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EU scientists think they’ve found a way to make the internet ‘unhackable’ – here’s what that means

The EU invested €1 billion in a Quantum Technology Flagship initiative back in 2018 – and now its researchers claim they’ve used quantum physics to make the internet “unhackable.”

Whenever anyone says “quantum” you know the conversation is about to become a million times harder to follow. But the fundamentals behind it are just about understandable when you ask someone clever to break them down, which is exactly what we did.

“Classical computers, the ones we all own and use, are deterministic: they do precisely and only what they are told to do,” says John Graham-Cumming, CTO at Cloudflare. “Despite all the amazing things they can do classical computers work in the hard world of zeroes and ones.

“Quantum computers work with uncertainty rather than zeroes and ones which gives them power that classical computers do not have. Many problems that are hard or slow for classical computers to solve become easy and fast with quantum computers.”

Related: Google’s quantum computer is 100m times faster than your CPU

In a nutshell they have the potential to be a lot more powerful and a lot faster than your rickety old laptop. We haven’t perfected the technology yet – but the EU is still chucking a lot of money at protecting us from this future threat.

Why are we throwing money at quantum security?

One of the reasons people are getting their knickers in a twist over quantum computing is because it poses a huge threat to current everyday apps. The new algorithms on quantum computers could break the encryption on things we currently use, like WhatsApp, emails or even banking apps.

Raj Samani, Chief Scientist and McAfee Fellow, says that quantum computing could both damage and improve security: “Although the problem-solving capacity of Quantum Computers offers huge potential, there are always safety risks with new and existing technologies. For example, there is a possibility the technology could be used maliciously to access secure data.”

So the tech isn’t here yet, but it makes sense to be prepared. And we might not have to wait too much longer before we see Quantum Computing in the wild.

Google has long been working on huge quantum projects and even announced that it achieved quantum supremacy recently – proving that it had created a quantum computer capable of solving problems that are beyond the capabilities of classical computers.

Related: Best laptops in 2020

So…has the EU made the future internet unhackable?

Eh. Sort of.

CiViQ, which is a consortia supported by the EU initiative, has created a new type of Quantum Key Distribution (QKD). This is the main bit of tech that the initiative is shouting about at the moment.

QKD is a clever way to send stuff over the internet. It works by transmitting light particles (or photons) over a fibre optic cable, from one place to another. Any attempt to intercept the data would change the quantum properties of those photons, corrupting the info and making it unreadable. Does that make it unhackable, though?

McAfee Fellow Samani is cautious: “While these systems are likely to be inherently more secure than anything in existence today, no system is ever truly protected from threats. As consumer technology continues to evolve, the importance of securing these new devices becomes more and more apparent, as with new devices come new threats.”

Graham-Cumming is similarly wary of that label.

“I think it’s foolish to describe anything as unhackable. But this initiative is talking about a method of distributing encryption keys in a manner that prevents them from leaking to a third-party.”

In brief, it looks like a neat tool to help with future problems, but the internet could still turn into the Wild West when quantum computing kicks into gear.

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