Bug-safe through quantum physics?

17.11.2017, 00:00

How sensitive data can be kept spy proof in the future

At a lecture evening at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Light (MPL) that took place on Thursday 16th November, encryption expert and Max Planck director Gerd Leuchs held a lecture on secure data transmission and the status quo of research in this field. The event patron Heinrich von Pierer stressed the value of fundamental research, which offers a significant contribution to the economic and social development of the country.

What we today consider a secure and secret code could in future be decrypted by more advanced computers. At MPL countermeasures are being researched: In his lecture Max Planck Director Gerd Leuchs reported on the technique of so-called quantum key distribution and explained how the scientists in his research division applied the laws of quantum physics in their work, as, on the basis of these laws, any attempt at bugging leaves its very own, specific trace – an eavesdropper can no longer remain incognito. Heinrich von Pierer related an anecdote drawing from his own personal experience of not being bug-proof: “At the end of a conversation I’d had, and upon an enquiry on my part, I was informed that I had just been tapped by at least four different secret services.”

Quantum technology is currently gaining ground worldwide. Countries strongly involved in this field are Canada, the USA – here, above all, the NSA and companies such as Google, IBM or Microsoft – and in Asia, particularly China, which has now initially tested a satellite with quantum technology, as well as Japan. And there is no reason for Germany to remain in the shadows with respect to its present technological development in this area, according to Gerd Leuchs, for there have been some first breakthroughs at the institute: “We conducted an experiment in which we transmitted quantum information through the air in broad daylight, and most recently even from a satellite down to Earth. This is a first step towards secure, global data transmission which can be made possible when supported by a satellite network.” As a result we could do away with fibre optic cables, which to date have not proven suitable for greater distances and particularly not for worldwide quantum communication.  In the near future, quantum cryptography may even find application in the world of business: At the MPI plans for the start-up company “Infiniquant” is well underway.

New Max Planck Institutes desired for the region

Since the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Light was founded, Heinrich von Pierer has maintained a close relationship to the institute: In 2009, shortly after the MPL was established, Siemens offered its support by giving the institute a home in Günther-Scharowsky-Straße. Then in October 2016 the MPL moved into its new building. Heinrich von Pierer welcomes the great range of research undertaken at MPL: “This region has a remarkable concentration of technical know-how: Besides the Max Planck Institute, we also have the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg, the Technische Hochschule Nürnberg and numerous non-university establishments such as the Fraunhofer Institutes and the Helmholtz Institute, which are also located here. This is something we can be proud of.” Up to now, however, only in southern Bavaria is there a concentration of Max Planck Institutes. “Especially Nuremberg is predestined to accommodate further Max Planck Institutes. Where could scientific studies in areas such as human rights or labour-market research be better conducted than there?”

Contacting MPL in Erlangen

The Max Planck Institute for the Science of Light in Erlangen is one of the youngest members of the Max Planck Society, it being the 81st of the total of 83 institutes within this society which are dedicated to fundamental scientific research for the benefit of all. Those interested in the research conducted at the MPI for the Science of Light have the opportunity of joining the newly founded Friends of the institute and be informed of upcoming events. (MPLpresse(at)mpl.mpg(dot)de). 



Max Planck Institute for the Science of Light
Professor Gerd Leuchs
e-mail: gerd.leuchs@mpl.mpg.de 

Public Relations Office
phone: 09131- 7133 807
e-maill: MPLpresse(at)mpl.mpg(dot)de