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Quantum Physics Insights Could Change The Future Of Secure Credit Cards

Credit card fraud might soon become a problem of the past, thanks to new insights into quantum physics. According to a recent Optical Society report, researchers have developed a validation method called Quantum-Secure Authentication that harnesses the power of quantum physics to create a secure and likely fraud-proof “keys” for authentication. This new method of authentication can securely confirm the identity of any item, including credit cards, even if the object ends up in the hands of a thief.

The key to this new form of question-and-answer security is the quantum properties of light, and according to the researchers, makes the underlying data impossible to copy. Many banks have recently issued credit cards with microprocessor chips that authenticate the owner’s identity. These “smart cards,” despite being more secure than the traditional magnetic strip cards, still allow a clever thief the ability to copy the data. Quantum-Secure Authentication, however, overcomes these obstacles through the quantum properties of light, where photons are in multiple locations at the same time.

Pepijn Pinkse, a researcher from the University of Twente and lead author, stated “Single photons of light have very special properties that seem to defy normal behavior. When properly harnessed, they can encode information in such a way that prevents attackers from determining what the information is.” By placing some photons on the surface of a credit card, the resulting pattern is observed and recorded as a “key”. If a hacker tried to observe the unique key, according to researchers, it would “collapse the quantum nature of the light and destroy the information being transmitted.”

A credit card must be authenticated every time it is used, of course, and a reader couldn’t simply view these photons without destroying the data and rendering the card useless. To get around this problem, the quantum credit cards would have a strip of white paint containing millions of nanoparticles. By projecting a laser onto this strip, photons of light would bounce around the particles before finally escaping to the surface, forming a pattern unique to the card. The bank could then send a specific pattern of photons onto the paint, and the reflected pattern would reveal the remaining information needed to authenticate the transaction. While a hacker could perform the former task of shining a laser and getting an expected patter result, the thief would need the bank’s pattern as well, which would be impossible to replicate.

“It would be like dropping 10 bowling balls onto the ground and creating 200 separate impacts,” Pinkse said. “It’s impossible to know precisely what information was sent (what pattern was created on the floor) just by collecting the 10 bowling balls. If you tried to observe them falling, it would disrupt the entire system.”

Quantum-Secure Authentication can be implemented into applications other than credit cards — banking, vehicle access, and securing government buildings are among the many other uses for this new technology. The paper on quantum-secure authentication was published in a recent edition of the journal Optica.