Next Generation Security Software

Quantum Cryptography
A study into the present technologies and future applications

Bill Grindlay
14th January 2003

©2003 Next Generation Security Software Ltd
“Anyone who is not dizzy after his first acquaintance with the quantum of action has
not understood a word.”
- Niels Bohr (1885-1962)

“When cryptography is outlawed, bayl bhgynjf jvyy unir cevinpl.”
- Anonymous


Introduction .............................................................................................................. 5
A Brief History of Cryptography................................................................................ 6
The Development of Quantum Theory...................................................................... 11
The Advent of Quantum Cryptography..................................................................... 13
Is Quantum Cryptography Secure?.......................................................................... 16
Absolute Security and the Wider Social Issues......................................................... 19
Conclusion .............................................................................................................. 26


In October 1989 at 3 o™clock in the morning at IBM™s Thomas J. Watson Research
Centre near New York, Dr. Charles Bennett and a research student named John
Smolin witnessed the first ever quantum cryptographic exchange. Using polarised
light photons, computers called Alice and Bob successfully negotiated a completely
secure channel of communication over a distance of 32 centimetres. Quantum
cryptography had now finally moved from the theoretical to the practical arena.

In this report I intend to demonstrate why many scientists now view quantum
cryptography as the first ever completely unbreakable cipher, which will allow people
all over the world to communicate securely and privately.
I shall also consider the implications which this will have on society as a whole,
including potential problems for law enforcement organisations and the possible
impact on civil liberties.

A Brief History of Cryptography

Cryptography (derived from the Greek words kryptos and graphein meaning hidden
writing) is the science of codes and ciphers. A cipher is essentially a cryptographic
algorithm which is used to convert a message, known as the plaintext, into unreadable
ciphertext. The message can then be safely transmitted without fear of letting
sensitive information fall into the hands of the enemy.

The first written evidence of cryptography dates back as far as 1900 BC, when an
Egyptian scribe recorded information using a variation of standard hieroglyphics. The
author made use of what is now known as a substitution cipher, meaning that certain
hieroglyphs were substituted for others according to a set of rules. A modern
equivalent of this would be if every letter in the plaintext represented another in the
ciphertext, for instance swap every occurrence of the letter A in a message for B, and
every B for C and so on.

Archaeologists discovered evidence of the first practical application of cryptography
dating from 1500 BC in Mesopotamia (now part of modern day Iraq). A potter had
encoded his formula for pottery glaze onto a clay tablet, presumably to prevent rivals
from stealing it. This is an early example of what is now one of the main non-military
uses for data encryption, protection of intellectual property.

The first military application of cryptography came in the fifth century BC and was
invented by the Spartans of Greece. Their system involved wrapping a strip of leather
around a staff (known as a skytale), writing the message lengthways along the staff
and then removing the leather. The markings on the leather were then unintelligible
to anyone without a matching staff. In a sense the skytale could be said to be the first
cryptographic key, as the only people who could read the message were those who
possessed a staff of exactly the same diameter as the one used to encipher the

Then, as now, the primary motivating factor behind cryptography development and
research has been to keep military communications from the enemy. Julius Caesar
used an early substitution cipher, which now bears his name, for communication with
his generals. The Caesar cipher used a shift of three places along in the alphabet to
convert a plaintext letter to a ciphertext one, so A enciphered to D, B to E and so on.

A political treatise known as The Arthashastra written around 300 BC and attributed
to Kautilya, an Indian court advisor, made the first mention of cryptanalysis
techniques. Cryptanalysis, the art of code-breaking, has developed as a science
parallel to cryptography. Advances in code-making have thrown the onus onto the
code-breakers, and their exposures of vulnerabilities have, in turn, challenged the
cryptographers to produce even better ciphers.

During the Dark Ages and Mediaeval periods, many Arab and European scholars
wrote books categorising the various types of cipher which had evolved by that point.
An Arabic encyclopaedia from 1412 defined two types of cipher known as
substitution (where every letter in the plaintext is substituted for another one in the
ciphertext) and transposition (where the position of letters in the plaintext are changed
or new letters added in order to produce the ciphertext). Italian scientist Giovanni
Porta published a book in 1563 which detailed both of these ciphers, plus another
called symbol-substitution (use of a strange alphabet).

The simple substitution cipher was now no longer as secure as it once had been due to
a widely-used cryptanalysis technique known as frequency analysis. Code-breakers,
when given a large enough piece of ciphertext, would detail the frequency with which
each letter occurred. Using this information, and bearing in mind the frequency with
which letters normally occur in standard written English (E is most common,
followed by T, then A etc.) it is possible for the cryptanalyst to make tentative guesses
as to which letters in the ciphertext equate to which in the plaintext. It is quickly
apparent whether these guesses are accurate and using knowledge of other linguistic
characteristics of English (U always comes after Q for example) the substitution
cipher can be relatively easily unravelled.

The response to the insecurity of the substitution cipher came in 1466 with the first
published example of a polyalphabetic cipher by Italian renaissance artist and scientist
Leon Batista Alberti. The problem with the old monoalphabetic substitution cipher
was that one letter in the plaintext was represented by one letter in the ciphertext, and
it was the same mapping every time. The essence of this new type of cipher was the
use of several different letter-to-letter mappings (cipher alphabets) depending on the
position in the plaintext, ensuring that a certain letter in the plaintext did not always
encrypt to the same letter in the ciphertext. The most famous polyalphabetic cipher is
known as the Vigenère cipher, after Blaise de Vigenère a French diplomat and
cryptographer who developed it into its final form. The Vigenère cipher requires a
keyword which is written above the plaintext message repeatedly as shown:


Letters are enciphered as with other substitution ciphers, but the strength of the
Vigenère cipher is that, unlike the Caesar cipher where the offset is always 3 letters,
the enciphering offset changes depending on which letter of the keyword is above the
plaintext letter. This gives the cipher 26 possible enciphering alphabets, and in order
to find which one should be used for which letter a Vigenère square is used (see
Appendix I). The ciphertext letter is found by looking at the intersection between the
plaintext letter selected at the top, and the keyword letter selected along the left-hand
side. Every time the keyword letter changes, a different horizontal row of the square
is used, and therefore a different cipher alphabet is applied:


The resultant ciphertext does not bear a direct one-to-one mapping with the plaintext.
For example the three T™s in the plaintext are encoded first as L, then as K and finally
as M. This makes the ciphertext impervious to standard frequency analysis.

The Vigenère method became known as le chiffre ind©chiffrable (the indecipherable
cipher), but of course it was not unbreakable for long. Charles Babbage, an English
inventor and scientist is best known for designing the difference engine, a mechanical
calculation device which was the precursor to the modern digital computer. He was
also interested in codes and ciphers and was the first to realise that the Vigenère
cipher was essentially a series of monoalphabetic ciphers. Babbage™s technique
involved looking for repetitions of character strings in the ciphertext and assuming
that these are the same plaintext letters being enciphered with the same keyword
letters. It is now possible to guess the length of the keyword (n) and thus split the
ciphertext into n number of groups. Standard frequency analysis can now be applied
to each group of ciphertext letters to obtain all n mono-alphabetic cipher alphabets.

Code-making and breaking really came into their own during the First and Second
World Wars. The development of radio communications by Guglielmo Marconi at
the turn of the 19th century generated a huge amount of interest within the military.
However the very fact which made it so appealing, immediate communications over
great distances, also meant that the enemy could easily intercept vast quantities of
information. There was clearly a great need for secure encryption, something which
had not yet been achieved since the successful breaking of the Vigenère cipher.

It seemed that for the first time in history the cryptanalysts had comprehensively
gained the upper hand. This was made all the more apparent by the 1917
decipherment by British intelligence of what became known as the Zimmerman
telegram (see Appendix II), which effectively brought America into the First World
War. The telegram was sent by German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmerman to the
German embassy in Mexico, and promised US territory to Mexico if they allied with
Germany. When the contents of this were made public, American popular opinion,
previously fairly neutral, became decidedly pro-war and the US declared war against
Germany within a month. This event is still held by many experts to be the single
most historic decipherment ever made.

In the same year as the Zimmerman telegram made code-breaking history, Gilbert
Vernam, an employee of AT&T in America, built a machine to generate pseudo-
random strings of characters for use as encryption keys in a cipher called a one-time
pad (also referred to as the Vernam cipher). Before the advent of quantum
cryptography the one-time pad was widely regarded as the only cryptosystem which
guaranteed absolute security “ often termed the ˜holy grail™ of cryptography. The
one-time pad uses a random key of the same length as the plaintext, if the message is
intercepted the cryptanalyst has absolutely nothing to give them a foothold. The
pseudo-random encryption key means that there is no point looking for repeating
patterns, so essentially the only information an attacker has is that if the ciphertext is n
letters long, the plaintext must be one of all the possible messages of length n.

One-time pads are currently only used when security is of the utmost importance, for
example to encode the telephone line between Downing Street and the White House;
this is due to the problem of key distribution. For a one-time pad cryptosystem to
work effectively both the receiver and the sender need identical sets of strings of
random characters to use as encryption keys. New keys must be physically
exchanged on a regular basis to avoid key reuse, a very time consuming operation if
the correspondents are geographically distant.

Key distribution was a catch-22 situation for all ciphers regardless of security; if two
people wanted to communicate secretly they had to share a secret key, which itself
could not be exchanged unless they could communicate secretly. After the Second
World War with the introduction of increasingly complex ciphers thanks to the digital
computer, key distribution began to be seen as the weakest link in the chain. In the
1970s the American agency COMSEC managed encryption keys for the US
government and transported tonnes of paper, cards and floppy disks under armed
guard. If the US government was spending this amount of resources and money on
ensuring secrecy, many people reasoned, what chance did civilians ever have of

The cryptography breakthrough1 was made in 1975 by Whitfield Diffie, a research
cryptographer and mathematician, who envisaged what is now known as public key
cryptography. He developed an algorithm with a colleague, Martin Hellman, which
allowed two people, who may have never met, to negotiate a secret key over a public
communications channel. This was not a complete solution however as it still
required that both parties had to be online at the same time. There was also no way
that both parties could be sure they were actually talking to each other, and not to an

In 1977, encouraged by Diffie™s efforts, three researchers from the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology published their paper on the world™s first asymmetric cipher
named RSA (after the authors Rivest, Shamir and Adleman). The essence of
asymmetry is that different keys are used to encrypt and decrypt the message. A pair
of keys, known as public and secret keys, is generated by every user of the system.
The public key is made available to everyone and the secret key is kept secret. A
message to a user is encrypted with the recipient™s public key by the sender, and then
decrypted by the recipient with their secret key.

The effect of the RSA algorithm was to revolutionise cryptography. For the first time
ever two people could communicate securely across public networks without the prior
need to establish a shared secret key. Messages encrypted using RSA are not
unbreakable, but the conventional computing power required to derive the secret key
from the public key is so vast as to make it totally unfeasible. Claims that the US
National Security Agency (NSA), owner of the most processing power in the world,
can break popular encryption algorithms such as DES (Digital Encryption Standard)
are, as yet, unproven. As William Crowell, Deputy Director of the NSA, succinctly
put it:

“If all the personal computers in the world ’ approximately 260 million
computers ’ were to be put to work on a single [public-key] encrypted
message, it would take on average an estimated 12 million times the age of the
universe to break a single message”.

The future possibility of quantum computers, with the ability to break RSA within
minutes, would certainly cast doubt on the security of the cipher. Cryptographic
research has recently turned to harnessing quantum physics instead to provide a cipher
which provides a secure means of key exchange plus the absolute security of the one-
time pad, immune to the code-breaking attempts of a quantum computer. Is quantum
cryptography the final unbreakable cipher in the history of code-making?

It is now widely accepted that a complete system of public-key cryptography was in fact first
developed in 1975 by James Ellis, Clifford Cocks and Malcolm Williamson, a team working at the
UK™s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) but owing to military secrecy issues they
were not allowed to publicise their work at the time.

The Development of Quantum Theory

A quantum theory of matter began to be developed around the beginning of the 20th
century, in response to a series of unexpected experimental results which did not
conform to the previously accepted Newtonian model of the universe. The essence of
quantum theory is the realisation that elementary particles (electrons, protons,
neutrons etc.) also have the ability to behave as waves. A test which neatly
demonstrates this peculiar behaviour, known as wave/particle duality, in light photons
is the twin slit interference experiment. If light is directed at two slits in a screen the
waves will radiate outwards as shown below in Fig.1:

Fig.1: Light waves in the twin slit interference experiment

The light waves will interfere with each other in a very similar way to ripples in
water. Where two peaks meet, an even greater peak (more light) is created, and where
two troughs meet, an even lower trough (less light) is formed. When the light hits the
back screen an ˜interference pattern™ is created:

Fig.2: Pattern formed on screen showing differing intensities caused by light wave interference

So far this conforms to the accepted Newtonian universe model; but it was found that
if the light was instead used to repeatedly emit just a single photon (a quantum of
light) over a period of time, exactly the same interference pattern was formed on the
screen. This was a startling result, and completely challenged conventional physics.
When it is emitted the photon either goes through one slit, or the other. In order to
produce an interference pattern the photon must have somehow affected itself.

Two schools of thought have developed to explain the results of the twin slit
interference experiment, both holding opinions which seem to defy common sense.
The first theory suggests that, as the exact behaviour of each photon is unknown, it is
reasonable to believe that the photon can perform all possibilities simultaneously,
passing through both slits. Each possibility is called a state, and as long as the
photons are not observed, the experiment is said to be in a superposition of states.
The second camp instead posits the idea that at the moment when the photon has the
choice between slits the universe divides into two and in one universe the photon
passes through the left slit and in the other it passes through the right one. This
plurality of universes is known as the multiverse.

Even though it is not yet fully understood exactly how the results of the experiment
occur, they cannot be disputed. Quantum theory has now found applications in many
areas of electronics, such as computer processors and lower power consumption lasers
in compact disc players.

A particularly exciting application of quantum mechanics which is still currently in
the theoretical stage is that of quantum computing. Conventional computers use
binary digits (bits) set to either one or zero to perform calculations. Quantum
computers, it has been proposed, could use electrons spinning either clockwise or
anti-clockwise to represent ones and zeroes (qubits). If these are in a superposition of
states, and not observed, all the possible states will be evaluated simultaneously and
the correct answer to the calculation obtained in a fraction of the time it would have
taken a standard computer. This promised leap in processing power is a real threat to
the security of all currently existing ciphers. The current effectiveness of RSA could
be eliminated at a stroke, so clearly there is a pressing need to pre-emptively develop
a more resilient cipher.

The Advent of Quantum Cryptography

Shortly before British physicist David Deutsch published the first paper2 proposing
quantum computers in 1985, cryptologists had united quantum theory with code-
making. In the early 1980s two computer scientists, Charles Bennett a researcher for
IBM, and Gilles Brassard from the University of Montreal, realised that the
application of quantum theory in the field of cryptography could have the potential to
create a cipher giving absolute security for eternity. Initial work was hampered by the
ubiquitous problem of key distribution; if a conventional key-exchange system was
used, such as RSA, any security would be quickly lost to a brute-force attack using a
quantum computer.

The cryptosystem developed by Bennett and Brassard uses polarised light photons to
transfer data between two points. As a photon travels through space it vibrates
perpendicularly to its plane of movement, the direction of vibration is known as its
polarisation. For the sake of simplicity I have restricted the depicted directions of
vibration to horizontal and vertical, although in actuality the photons will also move
in all angles in between those shown:

Fig.3: Diagram showing vertically and horizontally polarised light

Polarising filters can be created from plastic polymers which will only allow light of a
certain polarisation through. These filters, or Polaroids, will block photons of a
diametrically opposite polarisation, but will allow those with the same polarisation
through. If a light photon has up to a 45˚ difference in polarisation then the photon
faces a quantum decision, and approximately half of the photons will make it through
and half will be blocked.

This influential paper is available online at the Centre for Quantum Computation:

Bennett and Brassard™s proposed scheme takes advantage of the fact that an observer
will have no idea which angle of polarising filter should be used for a certain photon
to pass successfully through. Supposing that the binary ones and zeroes of digital
communication are represented respectively by, in one scheme vertically (•) and
horizontally (”) (rectilinearly) polarised photons, and in the other left-diagonally ( )
and right-diagonally ( ) polarised photons. The sender of the message will randomly
swap between the rectilinear (+) and diagonal (—) schemes, known in quantum
cryptography as bases, during transmission. An eavesdropper attempting to intercept
the photons will have no idea whether to use a rectilinear or diagonal filter. Around
half of the time a totally inaccurate measurement will be made when a photon will
change its polarisation in order to pass through an incorrect filter. The cryptosystem
neatly takes advantage of one of the fundamental features of quantum theory, a
manifestation of Heisenberg™s uncertainty principle3, that the act of observing will
change the system itself. In this way it is impossible for an attacker to make an
accurate measurement of the data without knowledge of which scheme is being used,
essentially the cryptographic key.

Unfortunately, when this method was first developed, the intended recipient of the
message had no more idea as to the schemes being used than an attacker did, due to
the long-standing problem of secure key exchange. Obviously traditional key
exchange protocols such as RSA and Diffie-Hellman were out of the question as they
are ultimately breakable, and would negate the absolute security offered by a quantum
cryptosystem. Bennett and Brassard made the breakthrough in 1984, and in the
process created an entirely self-sufficient unbreakable cipher.

Assuming that two people named (using the popular cryptographic notation) Alice
and Bob wish to communicate securely. Their method for key-exchange starts with
Alice transmitting a stream of random bits as polarised photons and continually
swapping randomly between the rectilinear and diagonal encoding schemes. Bob at
this point has no idea which schemes are being used for which bit, and so he will also
swap randomly between schemes. Alice will now contact Bob insecurely and tell him
which scheme was used for each photon, Bob can say which ones were guessed
correctly and all the incorrect guesses are discarded. Both parties now share a secret
key, with no useful information leakage to an eavesdropper. In fact it will become
immediately apparent to both if someone is monitoring the photons in transit, because
their use of an incorrect filter is likely to change the polarity of photons before they
reach Bob. If, when comparing a small part of their shared secret key over a public
channel they do not match, it will be clear to both Alice and Bob that the photons
have been observed in transit.

Werner Heisenberg, a German physicist, demonstrated that it is impossible to measure accurately
both the momentum and location of an electron. The act of measurement itself is enough to alter
readings of the other property.

The publication of Bennett and Brassard™s cryptosystem caused a great deal of
excitement in the scientific community, but it was not until 1989 that the first physical
demonstration system (Fig.4) was built by Bennett and Smolin at IBM™s T. J. Watson
Research Laboratories in New York State. Since then the challenge has been to
produce functional systems over greater distances, hindered by the fact that
specifically polarised photons do not travel well through air as the molecules can alter
their polarity.

Fig.4: Quantum cryptographic apparatus constructed at IBM. Flashes of polarised light, each one tenth
of a photon, are generated and measured across a free air optical path of 32 centimetres.

Recent quantum cryptosystems have concentrated on using optical fibres to transmit
the photons. In March of this year a Swiss team of researchers successfully
conducted a quantum key exchange over the telephone network between Geneva and
Lausanne4, a distance of 67 kilometres. In August last year in the US, a team based in
Los Alamos, New Mexico, managed to transmit using two portable units across six
miles of desert5.

The work at Los Alamos is geared towards eventually sending quantum-encrypted
information from the ground to satellites, which would remove all limits to the
distances over which communications could be secured.

Quantum Key Distribution Over 67km with a Plug and Play System, The New Journal of Physics “
Vol.4/41, July 2002
Los Alamos Develops Quantum Crypto System, The EETimes “ August 23rd 2001

Is Quantum Cryptography Secure?

It may seem that this question has been answered quite comprehensively in the
preceding chapter. A message encrypted using quantum cryptography is secured by
the laws of quantum physics, so if it was provably insecure the most successful theory
in the history of physics would be disproved and our current understanding of the
universe shattered. However, there are issues of data security relevant to a cipher
beyond its confidentiality.

It is acknowledged in the 1991 paper “Experimental Quantum Cryptography”6
contributed to by Bennett and Brassard, that there are issues of authentication not
fully resolved by the current system. It is stated that “the assumption that the public
messages cannot be corrupted by [an eavesdropper] is necessary” to avoid what is
known as the man-in-the-middle attack. As both Alice and Bob have no way within
the proposed system of proving their identity to each other, it is possible for an
attacker to sit between them and impersonate Bob to Alice, and Alice to Bob thus
negotiating a secret key with each of them. The suggested solutions are an
“unjammable public channel” or a standard authentication scheme which would
require that both Alice and Bob shared some secret information beforehand. The
latter approach would seem to negate the main advantage of Bennett and Brassard™s
key exchange protocol, which is the ability for two entities to negotiate shared secret
knowledge in a public channel without the need for any prior secrets. This, as it
currently stands, suffers from the same drawback as the one-time pad which provides
absolute secrecy but with the additional headache of securely distributing the keys. It
would be possible to extend Bennett and Brassard™s protocol to include an adaptation
of the current certification authority authentication mechanism for conventional
public keys. The current system uses trusted agencies to digitally sign public keys
and so verify the identity of their owner. This however, whilst removing the need for
shared secret knowledge, relies on computationally infeasible, but breakable,
mathematical equations and, as such, would not offer an absolutely secure means of

Another element of a quantum cipher™s security is that of availability, which has not
previously been an issue with conventional encryption. The root of the problem is an
eavesdropper™s ability to alter photons in transit and so prevent two entities from
achieving an error free channel. This could be seen as a denial of service (DoS)
vulnerability, and a malicious user is not limited to this line of attack. Even if Alice
and Bob are sharing secret authentication keys, an attacker could repeatedly corrupt
the public authentication exchange leading to both parties exhausting their supplies of
keys before a secure connection is established. However the majority of DoS attacks,
whilst annoying, are not considered security critical, and there is certainly no way for
an attacker to trick Alice and Bob into believing that a secure connection exists.

Experimental Quantum Cryptography “ C. H. Bennett, F. Bessette, G. Brassard, L. Salvail and J.
Smolin, Journal of Cryptology, vol. 5, no. 1, 1992, pp. 3 “ 28

There are physical attacks which may be mounted on the transmission medium itself.
Assuming that an eavesdropper has access to unlimited technology, two major
techniques which have been identified are intercept/resend and beam-splitting.

Intercept/resend takes advantage of the fact that current photon detecting equipment is
far from perfect; only around 1 in 400 pulses (one tenth of a photon) are successfully
transmitted and received. As Alice and Bob know to expect this level of photon loss,
an attacker can intercept selected pulses of light before they reach Bob, measure them,
and then resend them on with the detected polarity. However, due to the difficulties
in quantum measurement of photons, the probability of the resent and measured
photons still having the correct polarisation when measured by Bob is only 0.25 or
one in four6. The discrepancies will therefore be apparent to both Alice and Bob.
Additionally Bennett™s calculations as to any advantage gained by the eavesdropper
puts the probability that they have correctly guessed a particular bit as 1/√2 or
approximately 0.7 (1 DP). For a cipher to be absolutely secure, it is unacceptable that
even partial disclosure of the key occurs, so therefore whilst the optical technology is
imperfect, any errors in transmission must be treated as an eavesdropping attempt and
the entire exchange repeated.

Beam-splitting utilises the fact that the pulses of light which Alice and Bob use to
communicate, in practice, are not single photon-states. The attacker uses a mirror to
deflect part of the original light beam allowing it to continue, albeit with reduced
intensity, towards Bob. The deflected pulses will be stored until Alice and Bob
publicly announce the bases used to encode each bit, at which point the stored beam
can be correctly measured. At the current time the technology does not exist, and it is
not known if it is possible, to store polarised light pulses. However a present-day
attacker is still able to make guesses as to the correct measurements of their diverted
beam, as in the intercept/resend attack, with the added bonus of avoiding error
creation in the data stream. The drop in beam intensity is likely to alert Alice and Bob
to an intruder, and a sufficient delay before the bases are publicly discussed will also
allow time for any stored photons to decay.

After a quantum key exchange has completed, according to Bennett and Brassard
“Alice and Bob are now in the possession of a string that is almost certainly shared,
but only partly secret”. This is due to their assumption that the exchange will be
eavesdropped, and that it will be done to the best of an attacker™s ability. Instead of
repetition of the whole process, Alice and Bob can make an estimation as to the
amount of their secret key which can have been divulged (or lucky guessed), and then
perform a process known as “privacy amplification”. This involves publicly selecting
a hashing function from a shared secret set, and then applying it to their shared secret
key. The result will be a different secret key which they both share, and of which an
attacker knows nothing.

The protocol developed by Bennett & Brassard et al is the first quantum
cryptographic protocol ever produced. Quantum cryptography itself is still very much
in its infancy, and has not yet made it out of the laboratory and become widely and
publicly used. It is not surprising therefore, that while the physics behind the idea are
unshakable, there are issues which may impede its rapid take-up and acceptance. The
very feature of quantum physics which gives quantum cryptography its security as a
confidential cipher also reduces its security as a reliable cryptosystem. The act of
observation of a quantum key exchange will irreversibly alter it, destroy data and
possibly necessitate the repetition of the exchange. In practice in a public channel,
this could easily be classified a denial of service attack, and at the very least will
waste time and cause frustration.

As the protocol stands, the issue of authentication is not fully resolved. A small
amount of shared data is required between communicants before the exchange even
begins, if this is necessary before a secure channel is established then it is an echo of
the key-distribution problems faced by Diffie and Hellman, and GCHQ in the Sixties.
The protocol however does allow for a key to be exchanged between two parties who
may never have met, although there is no way for them to be assured that they are
actually negotiating with each other.

The telephone networks in the countries which would lead the implementation of
quantum cryptosystems are heavily reliant on optical fibres. These use pulses of light
to transfer telephone conversations in digital form. The existing infrastructure of
optical fibres would be an ideal medium for the transfer of quantum encrypted data.
An added advantage is the perceived security of the telephone system in comparison
to a local network or the Internet on which anyone with a grounding in security can
sniff traffic. The practice of placing telephone taps has so far largely been restricted
to law enforcement and requires more engineering and electrical knowledge than most
malicious attackers will possess. There is physical security at local exchanges giving
another barrier to eavesdropping. Essentially this adds up to an existing, secure
infrastructure for the rollout of quantum cryptography. Indeed, as previously
mentioned, a Swiss team has already used the Swiss network for a successful quantum

The Swiss team used a technique known as quantum entanglement to transmit their
exchange. This involves using a crystal to split a polarised photon into a pair of
photons, each in a superposition of polarised states. When the polarity of one member
of an entangled pair is measured, the other member immediately assumes its
companion™s polarity, a quantum effect which Einstein disparagingly termed “spooky
action at a distance”. This method was first proposed by Oxford physicist Artur
Ekert, and involves sending pairs of entangled photons to both Alice and Bob
simultaneously. Entanglement makes statistical analysis of the transmitted data
useless, as neither member of the pair has polarisation until it is measured. This
ensures absolute randomness of keys generated by the quantum exchange.

Absolute Security and the Wider Social Issues

The communications security offered by quantum encryption cannot be disputed. If
two people have established a secret key and are passing polarised photons between
two points, the laws of quantum physics dictate that it is impossible for the
information exchanged to be compromised. The ability of private citizens to achieve
this, which has never before been possible, is likely to be of particular interest to
national government and law enforcement agencies. Since computer encryption has
been available to the public it has been legislated and the export of algorithms from
country to country tightly controlled.

When Rivest, Shamir and Adleman first developed the RSA algorithm in 1977 the
American National Security Agency (NSA) put great pressure on both the researchers
and their employer, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), to prevent
publication7. They published regardless, and in their hurry lost patent rights to the
algorithm outside the US where most countries require registration before publication.

In the past America has maintained strict controls on the export to other countries of
cryptographic algorithms or software, in effect treating them as munitions comparable
to missiles or machine guns. In January 2000, in a historic move, the government
relaxed controls on all cryptographic software exported by US companies. Following
this, in March 2001, the government allowed strong encryption (128 bit keys) for
export, from a previous maximum of 40 bits. There is still some distance to go, and
there is still great pressure in the senate for further relaxation of controls.

In 1991 Phil Zimmerman released a software package called PGP (Pretty Good
Privacy) which uses RSA encryption within a simple user interface. The software
was directed at the home user, and was intended to give everyone secure Internet
communications. The effects of Zimmerman™s altruistic efforts were to make him the
target of an FBI enquiry and a grand jury investigation. Zimmerman released his
software for free on the Internet and, as it contained cryptographic code, had
effectively become an international arms dealer. The US government eventually
dropped its investigation in 1996.

In 1991 the US government attempted to pass Senate Bill 266, which stipulated that
all encryption software must have a back-door built into it to allow officials to read
private messages. It read in part:

"It is the sense of Congress that providers of electronic communications
services and manufacturers of electronic communications service equipment
shall insure that communications systems permit the Government to obtain the
plain text contents of voice, data, and other communications when
appropriately authorized by law" 8.

Crypto: How the Code Rebels Beat the Government - Saving Privacy in the Digital Age “ Steven
Levy, ePenguin, B00005UOTX (e-Book)
Comprehensive Counter-Terrorism Act of 1991 (Senate Bill 266)

The bill was defeated after strong protests from civil liberties groups. This is a
parallel to the UK government™s Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill which was
enacted into law9 in July 2000. This now allows for “lawful interception” of all
communications data, meaning that anyone using cryptography must give up a copy
of their key if a warrant is obtained. Failure to do so is punishable by up to two years
in prison.

A practical and widely-used quantum cryptosystem would pose serious problems for
the NSA and render much of the previous cryptography legislation redundant at a
stroke. Obtaining a crypto-key with a warrant is of very little use if you don™t have a
copy of the original encrypted message, as current technology does not allow storage
of light photons for long.

There is clearly a public safety issue here, as presumably the NSA and GCHQ do not
want access to encrypted emails simply to keep tabs on political opponents. Currently
public-key encryption is widely used by organised crime and terrorist networks.
Computers owned by al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan contained files encrypted
using 40-bit DES. Before March 2001, this was the strongest encryption which could
be shipped internationally from the US; journalists broke it using a brute-force attack
within five days10. Crypto-software using 128 bit keys can now be exported
internationally; this gives exponentially more security and, using the journalist™s
setup, would be absolutely unfeasible to crack.

In 1995 the Aum Shinrikyo cult released sarin nerve gas on the Tokyo subway, killing
12 people and injuring thousands. When their headquarters were raided the
authorities retrieved RSA encrypted documents, and after finding the key on a floppy
disk, decoded plans to deploy weapons of mass destruction in Japan and the US. Had
they not had the luck to also discover the key, these documents could have been lost

Quantum cryptography, as it stands at the moment, is purely a transmission
cryptosystem. There is no provision for storage of encrypted data which can, and
does, impede criminal investigations. Dorothy Denning listed the threats to society
posed by encryption in her 1997 paper as:

“failure to get evidence needed for convictions, failure to get intelligence vital
to criminal investigations, failure to avert catastrophic or harmful attacks,
and failure to get foreign intelligence vital to national security. Encryption
can also delay investigations, increase their costs, and necessitate the use of
investigative methods which are more dangerous or invasive of privacy”11.

Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 “ Chapter 23 (ISBN 0105423009)
Weakened Encryption Lays Bare Al-Qaeda Files “ Will Knight, New Scientist, 17/1/2002
Encryption and Evolving Technologies as Tools of Organized Crime and Terrorism “ Dorothy E.
Denning, 1997

When quantum cryptography enters widespread public use it will only protect data in
transit across public networks. However, assuming that eventually advances in
particle physics will occur that allow storage of polarised photons, it will be possible
to hold data could be completely unreadable without the key, and indeed any
unauthorised attempt to read it will result in that data™s destruction. The obvious legal
response to this has already been enacted in the UK in the form of the mandatory key
disclosure part of the RIP Act 2000.

It is currently still a contested issue to what extent existing cryptography hampers law
enforcement, and it is difficult to obtain accurate information due to the secrecy of
government agencies. Most of the investigators Denning spoke to did not find that
“encryption was obstructing a large number of investigations. They were, however,
concerned about the future”. Denning estimated the number of criminal cases
worldwide involving encryption in 1997 to be around 500, so using her 50%-100%
estimation of annual growth, that puts the 2002 figure at somewhere between 4 000
and 16 000. The encryption systems encountered ranged from the well known DES,
RSA and IDEA (International Data Encryption Algorithm) to more obscure
proprietary systems and custom made ciphers. In the same year, 1997, in which the
FBI contested that “court ordered wire-tapping is the single most effective
investigative technique used by law enforcement to counter illegal drugs, terrorism,
violent crime, espionage and organized crime”, a White House official confirmed a
worrying trend that “organized crime members are some of the most advanced users
of computer systems and of strong encryption”. In 2000 before a Senate panel, the
director of the FBI, Louis Freeh stated that “uncrackable encryption is allowing
terrorists - Hamas, Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda and others - to communicate about their
criminal intentions without fear of outside intrusion”.

In February 1997 the Australian Attorney-General™s Department put a stop to the
public release of the Walsh report, a review of the government™s policies on
cryptography. After one failed attempt to force disclosure of the document, the civil
liberties group Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) successfully obtained a heavily
edited version in June of 1997 under the Freedom of Information Act. In December
1998 the missing sections were recovered, and provide a rare insight into
governmental attitudes to the increasing use of cryptography. Section 4.3.1 warned

“the loss of real-time access to communications would require the AFP the
NCA and ASIO (and all State and Territory police services) to rely more
heavily on human sources of information, on the use of listening devices, on
tracking devices, on video surveillance, and on physical surveillance - all
more invasive intrusions on a person's privacy”.

Later in section 4.3.4 the document confirms law enforcement™s concern for the
increasing criminal reliance on cryptography to destroy evidence:

“there is an observable pattern of changed encryption behaviour following
arrests and even searches of property. Either the power of the encryption
being employed is increased or the encryption practice, which may have been
flawed because of poor password protection or similar, is enhanced”.

The Australian government originally suppressed these parts of the report under a
section of the Freedom of Information Act which deals with documents affecting the
enforcement of law and public safety. This suggests that a major component of the
legal opposition to strong cryptography is based on restricting widespread knowledge
of the available techniques; insecurity through obscurity is not an approach which is
likely to prove effective in the long run.

Much of the press relating to cryptography is positive and focuses on the potential for
protection from criminals. A major story in July of 2002 was the release by an
offshoot from the hacking group Cult of the Dead Cow called Hacktivismo of a free
tool called Camera/Shy which was touted as a worldwide benefit to democracy. The
software uses steganography, hiding a secret message, combined with 256-bit
encryption to encapsulate messages within GIF format picture files. The group
maintains their product is aimed at political dissidents in countries with strict controls
over the Internet, such as China, and will allow them to communicate securely with
the rest of the world without fear of reprisals. It is a very valid point that a vital part
of freedom of speech is the freedom to speak privately. Indeed it is recognised by
Article 12 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family,
home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation.
Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference
or attacks”12.

The future problem for the governments and security services will be that quantum
cryptography can provide absolutely secure transmission of data with no degrees.
There is no way to mitigate the level of security to allow provisos for people with a
valid legal reason to access the data. Article 12 of the Declaration of Human Rights is
increasingly being used as a justification for unfettered civilian access to strong
cryptography, however the use in the article of the word “arbitrary” can be taken to
mean that citizens may communicate privately only if it does not interfere with law

United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 12,

Key escrow, the legal requirement that all private citizens wishing to use digital
encryption must register a copy of their encryption key with a trusted third party, has
been vigorously contested by civil liberties groups in all countries where it has been
proposed, most notably in the UK in the three years before the passing of the RIP Bill
in 2000. The rejection of escrow and acceptance of the bill can be seen as a
reasonable compromise, preserving privacy for users unless there is an explicitly court
sanctioned warrant.

Echelon is the codename for a system which captures and keyword checks digital
communications across the globe and is monitored by the five participant countries,
the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Some
sources claim up to 90% of Internet traffic is passed through Echelon13, although
claims are impossible to verify as all countries except Australia and New Zealand
refuse to even acknowledge its existence. It is the indiscriminate gathering of
information which most concerns civil libertarians, arguing that everyone™s privacy is
more important than any perceived reduction in crime. Successful implementation of
a global network secured by quantum cryptography would quickly invalidate Echelon
if we are to believe that terrorists and organised crime syndicates are the early
adopters of cryptographic technology. Any eavesdropping techniques attempted by
the security services would only allow them to damage the traffic, without
discovering its contents. A report on Echelon published in 1988 found that:

“Whilst there is much information gathered about potential terrorists, there is
a lot of economic intelligence, notably intensive monitoring of all the countries
participating in the GATT [General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade]

The release of the report sparked French protests that the US was using the system for
industrial espionage. This is an echo of previously correct allegations that the
American government was misusing telephone wire-taps in the Sixties to gather
information which could be used to discredit perceived enemies, such as Martin
Luther King Jr, whose civil rights campaign was regarded as a national security issue.

The Government Is Reading Your E-Mail “ Greg Lindsay, Time Digital Daily, June 24, 1999
Somebody's Listening, Duncan Campbell “ New Statesman, 12 August 1988

It is the opinion of many of the cryptography pioneers such as Rivest and
Zimmerman, the idea of restricting a technology simply because it has the potential
for criminal misuse is no argument at all. Rivest drew the parallel between
cryptography and a pair of gloves, which could be used legitimately, or could be used
to avoid leaving fingerprints at a crime scene. Dr Brian Gladman, Crypto Policy Co-
ordinator at the UK organisation Cyber-Rights and Cyber-Liberties, has stated:

“I don't think there is any middle ground - we must sweep away all restrictions
on crypto and, if we need to do so, introduce laws that control the bad uses of
this technology. It is not illegal to own a kitchen knife but it is illegal to use
one for murder. This is the only logical way forward.”15

There are a variety of techniques which intelligence gathering organisations employ
which no degree of encryption can prevent. The tempest16 attack entails monitoring
the variation between faint electromagnetic impulses which are emitted by keyboard
cables when different keys are struck. The cable acts as an aerial and can broadcast
this information outside the building where the computer is based. This can allow the
capturing of an entire message in plaintext before any encryption is applied. In the
US it is required to obtain a government license before fitting electro-magnetic
shielding in a building, which suggests that this method is regularly used by
intelligence agencies.

Trojans and backdoors are another type of tool for bypassing encryption. It is
possible to develop a software daemon which, when unwittingly installed by a user,
will listen for private key usage and then send the key together with passphrase to a
designated Internet address17. There have been a number of high profile criminal
cases recently involving FBI keystroke logging techniques, most notably that of loan
shark Nicodemo S. Scarfo Jr who pleaded guilty in a New Jersey court to a charge of
illegal gambling18 in March 2002. Keystroke loggers are invisible processes running
on a machine which make a note of every key pressed and can relay this information
back to a server or email account. Defence attorneys in this particular case attempted
to invalidate the evidence as unconstitutional; the prosecution in return invoked the
Classified Information Protection Act 2001, which successfully defended the system
as being essential to national security.

Cryptology: Law Enforcement & National Security vs. Privacy, Security & The Future of Commerce
“ Nick Ellsmore, 1999,
An abbreviation for Transient Electromagnetic Pulse Emanation Standard
The Caligula Word macro virus, found in the wild in 1998, captured private PGP keys and attempted
to upload them to the author™s FTP site
Mobster Nailed By FBI Keystroke Logger Pleads Guilty “ George A. Chidi Jr, IDG News Service,

It can be inferred that the tempest and keystroke logging approaches are, from the
evidence available, widely utilised by at least the American intelligence services as a
way around strong encryption. If this is indeed the case, the introduction of
unbreakable quantum cryptography may not make as great an impact on the
effectiveness of law enforcement as has been suggested by White House and FBI
officials. The ideal balance between privacy and protection could still be realised,
confidentiality for those who want it, with legal recourse to prevent abuse.


What has so far, in the history of cryptography, been a battle between the code-
makers and the code-breakers looks set to become a conflict between civil libertarians
and government agencies. A public and practical implementation of quantum
cryptography would render multi-billion dollar departments of security agencies
redundant. Existing or future legislation on key escrow or mandatory key disclosure
would be completely ineffective. The only way in which these agencies could
continue to harvest information regarded as essential to national security would be to
limit civilian access to the new technology in the same way that crypto-software™s
export key lengths were restricted. The previous approach to controls was flawed
because it was on entirely software based encryption mechanisms, requiring only an
unauthorised software release by Phil Zimmerman to destroy all restrictions.
Quantum cryptography, however, requires a relatively complex array of hardware to
operate, or at least out of the reach of the average home user. Bennett and Smolin
needed Pockels cells to set the polarity of the sender™s photons, a calcite Wollaston
prism to split the received beam and photomultiplier tubes to sense the individual
received photons19 (see Appendix III for a full diagram of the apparatus).

The most likely implementation of quantum cryptography which resolves the
hardware issue will be on a local exchange level, similar to the current telephone
network. The consumers of hardware encryption solutions at the current time are
restricted to governments are large corporations where speed is of great importance.
The vast majority of home users are unlikely to be persuaded of the benefits of total
quantum security offset against the cost of the required optical hardware. If the
quantum encryption itself is performed at a local exchange, this gives security
agencies the opportunity to place taps to record information before it is unbreakably

The real threat to criminal enquiries at the moment seems to stem from an increasing
adoption of conventional digital encryption methods by organised crime and terrorist
groups. Law enforcement officers warn of increasingly technologically aware
criminals, and the fact that often a prosecution™s success can hang on the outcome of
file decryption attempts. In this environment, where 1024-bit RSA encryption can put
a stop to a trial, it is difficult to see how the introduction of quantum cryptography
could aid criminals. The change will happen when, and if, quantum computers
become reality and destroy the security of all currently existing conventional ciphers.
The most structured and well funded organised crime and terrorist groups will in all
probability have both the resources and the technology to make use of satellite or
cable-based quantum cryptosystems. The private citizen, on the other hand, is
unlikely to have the means to achieve this and is in danger of being left behind in the
race for absolute security.

Experimental Quantum Cryptography “ C. H. Bennett, F. Bessette, G. Brassard, L. Salvail and J.
Smolin, Journal of Cryptology, vol. 5, no. 1, 1992, pp. 3 “ 28

Impermeable encryption will, first and foremost, be a major boon for the world™s
militaries and corporations. E-commerce companies were a powerful lobbying force
in favour of the relaxation of crypto export controls, due to the increase in security for
Internet shopping, which was seen as leading to greater consumer confidence and
higher revenues. Businesses also store vast quantities of confidential and ˜mission
critical™ data which must be held and transmitted without the possibility of
eavesdropping by malicious hackers or spies working for their rivals. The civil
libertarians have a powerful ally in big business, and in the current absence of a clear
danger posed by universal access to strong encryption, coupled with pressure from the
commercial sector for liberalisation of restraints, Western governments in the future
are likely to be more liberal in their crypto legislation.

FBI Director, Louis Freeh, described key escrow as balancing “fundamental societal
concerns involving privacy, information security, electronic commerce, public safety,
and national security”. Mandatory key escrow is certainly a possibility for the future
of conventional cryptography, the civil libertarian argument that this is the equivalent
to giving the government keys to our houses overlooks the fact that law enforcement
already has the right, if in possession of a warrant, to enter and search any private
house. This may strike the right balance for conventional cryptosystems at the present
time, however adapting it to the quantum model may prove problematic. Quantum
communications cannot be invisibly intercepted, so any prior key knowledge would
be of no use to anyone. In the future the two opposing camps across the crypto divide
are liable to become even more polarised as quantum computers render conventional
ciphers useless, and the choice we are left with offers quantum cryptography and
absolute security, or none at all.

Only time will tell how cryptography will evolve in the future, the catalyst for
development will be practical quantum computers which currently still lie in the realm
of science fiction. The public may become more sympathetic to law enforcement and
allow stringent laws limiting or prohibiting the use of unbreakable cryptography, or
the reverse may occur leading to universal access to strong crypto and forcing law
enforcement agencies back to more conventional and personal surveillance
techniques. For the first time in the four thousand year history of the science of
cryptography absolute security has been achieved, but is this state too dangerous for a
modern society to tolerate?


The books and articles listed below have been used as general background research
for the project. Where more specific information has been used in the text, the source
has been credited using a footnote.

Brief History of Cryptography

Cryptography Timeline “ Carl Ellison˜cme/html/timeline.html

The Codebreakers “ David Kahn
Simon and Schuster, 1997, ISBN 0-68483-130-9

The Code Book “ Simon Singh
Fourth Estate, 1999, ISBN 1-85702-879-1

Cryptographic Timeline “

The Zimmerman Telegram “

The Development of Quantum Theory

Alice in Quantumland: An Allegory of Quantum Physics “ Robert Gilmore
Copernicus Books, 1995, ISBN 0-38791-495-1

Quantum Mechanics History “ J. J. O™Conner & E. F. Robertson˜history/HistTopics/The_Quantum_age_begins.html

Quantum Theory and Wave/Particle Duality “ John K. N. Murphy

Introducing Quantum Theory “ J. P. McEvoy & Oscar Zarate
Icon Books, 1999, ISBN 1-84046-057-1

The Centre for Quantum Computation

David Deutsch™s Homepage

The Advent of Quantum Cryptography

Quantum Cryptography: Quantum Key Distribution and Coin Tossing “ C. H.
Bennett and G. Brassard
Proceedings of IEEE International Conference on Computers, Systems and Signal
Processing, Bangalore, India, December 1984, pp. 175 - 179

Crypto Set For a Quantum Leap “ Niall McKay
Wired Magazine, 5th April 1999,1294,18936,00.html

Experimental Quantum Cryptography “ C. H. Bennett, F. Bessette, G. Brassard, L.
Salvail and J. Smolin
Journal of Cryptology, vol. 5, no. 1, 1992, pp. 3 - 28

Quantum Cryptography “ C. H. Bennett, G. Brassard and A. K. Ekert
Scientific American, July 1992

Absolute Security and the Wider Social Issues

The Debate Over Cryptography and Scientific Freedom “ Alexander Fowler
Professional Ethics Report, Volume X, Number 4, Autumn 1997

The Walsh Report (Australian Government Policy on Encryption)

Encryption, Organized Crime and Terrorism “ Dorothy E. Denning, 1997

The Wassenaar Arrangement