Startup MagiQ Technologies Inc. yesterday announced it's shipping what appears to be the first security system based on quantum cryptography (see MagiQ Ships Quantum Crypto ).

Quantum cryptography goes a step further than electronic cryptography through its employment of a stream of photons, the quantum properties of which determine the key. The fun part is that if an intruder observes or intercepts the transmission, those properties get changed -- an unavoidable principle of quantum mechanics -- meaning the sender and receiver can tell if anyone is eavesdropping. Perhaps more important, the key can't be copied or faked (see Optical Science Gets Spookier and Quantum Cipher Sent by Fiber ).

It's a potential breaththrough, though working with photons has never been easy, and, as the optical networking bubble has shown, it can be an expensive way to build technology.

MagiQ's Navajo system, a box made to fit in a standard telecom rack, was unveiled in February and began beta trials in March (see MagiQ Demos Quantum Cryptography ).

MagiQ says Navajo performs the usual triple-DES and AES encryption standards. What's special is the transmission of the key, a string of random bits used to decipher messages. Computers normally use a random number for the key, producing encryption schemes that could be broken if enough computing power were made available.

"There's a big vulnerability people see, because optical fiber is very easy to tap," says Bob Gelfond, MagiQ CEO, citing one carrier that was finding taps in its Manhattan office "several times a week."


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When you have eliminated the impossible, that which remains, however improbable, must be the truth