– Washington State University mathematicians have designed an encryption code capable of fending off the phenomenal hacking power of a quantum computer.
Using high-level number theory and cryptography, the researchers reworked an infamous old cipher called the knapsack code to create an online security system better prepared for future demands.
Quantum computers operate on the subatomic level and theoretically provide processing power that could be exponentially faster than classical computers. Several companies are in the race to develop quantum computers including Google and Dwave Systems.
The currently popular internet security algorithms are nor resistant to quantum computers. Online transactions ranging from buying a book on Amazon to simply sending an email would need to be upgraded with new algorithms if quantum computers are successful.
A new public key code
Looking to protect future online information, Hamlin and retired mathematics professor William Webb turned to the long-abandoned knapsack code. To bring it up to quantum level – and possibly use it as a new type of public key encryption – the researchers first engineered new numbering systems for the code.
“We used alternate ways of representing numbers,” said Hamlin.
In effect, they created new digital systems with much greater complexity than society’s day-to-day decimal and binary systems.
“By using very complicated number strings, we produced a new version of the knapsack code that can’t be broken by the usual cyber attack methods,” said Webb.
As a result, Hamlin and Webb believe the redesigned knapsack code could offer a viable alternative for public key encryption with quantum computing.
We had recently shown that every positive integer can be represented uniquely using a recurrence sequence, when certain restrictions on the digit strings are satisfied. We present the details of how such representations can be used to build a knapsack-like public key cryptosystem. We also present new disguising methods, and provide arguments for the security of the code against known methods of attack.
The knapsack problem is a theoretical puzzle dating back to at least 1897 and is very difficult to solve in its most general form.
“Basically, it asks if you have one big number (the knapsack) and lots of small numbers (objects), what is the subset of small numbers (or objects) that will perfectly fill the knapsack? The concept was used to create a code called the knapsack code,” explained Webb.
“The knapsack code was originally suggested as a tool for public key encryption in the 1970s, but it was broken by two different methods and people lost interest in it,” he said.
Webb’s idea to bring it out of storage was at first an intellectual exercise.
“Knapsack is a simple, elegant code but it was broken,” said Webb. “We wondered if it could be fixed and redesigned to be secure. The challenge was intriguing.”
Hamlin said they made corrections at the fundamental level of the code, which repaired many of its weak spots. This let it block a greater array of cyber attacks, including those using basis reduction, one of the decoding methods used to break the original knapsack code, he said.
“Basis reduction is a big hammer to use against this code and, after testing, we think it’s secure against this type of attack and would offer an alternative code for quantum computing,” Hamlin said.
Webb said although it still needs outside testing, the remodeled knapsack code holds promise for making future online computer transactions considerably more secure.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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