MagiQ Device Can Encode Keys

By Dennis Fisher  |  Posted 2002-11-11

A New York-based startup last week announced it has a working prototype of a device capable of employing quantum cryptography to encode keys on existing high-speed networks.

MagiQ Technologies Inc. is the first company to announce its intention to sell a commercial solution based on the concept of quantum cryptography. Code-named Navajo, the system comprises an appliance at either end of the communications link, capable of generating keys and encoding them one photon at a time.

Quantum cryptography relies on the properties of photons and the laws of quantum mechanics, which dictate that an eavesdropper wouldnt be able to read or even observe a photon without changing its state. That would alert the receiver that the message had been intercepted and was no longer secure.

"You absolutely know that the key is generated and transmitted in a secure state," said Andrew Hammond, vice president of MagiQ. "Because of the speed of the system, you can flip the key every second on a gigabit network. Which means that even if someone was able to compromise the security of the box, which could happen, they would have no ability to leverage the key because it changes so often."

Quantum Leap

Elements of the system include:
  • Hardware-based network with one box at each end of the link
  • Generates a new key once per second
  • Keys encoded on photons
  • Keys cannot be intercepted or read without altering their state
  • Because of these properties, quantum cryptography has long been considered the Holy Grail of cryptography. There has been quite a bit of hype and misinformation surrounding research in this field, and the companies that attempt to commercialize the technology will face a lot of scrutiny from security experts and crackers.

    MagiQ officials acknowledge this and said theyre taking all due caution to ensure that they dont make mistakes.

    "Were going to take our time on this because we need to get this right," said Hammond. "We have a working prototype now, and well start the beta in the first quarter [of next year]."

    Navajo is due for release in the latter part of next year.

    The appliances have built-in security features designed to prevent anyone from compromising one of the keys. For example, if the appliance is moved or if its case is cracked open, the key in use is automatically zeroed out.

    Hammond said MagiQ initially will target government agencies, financial services companies and other organizations with a lot of intellectual property to protect. And the fact that the solution can work on existing networks should make it all the more appealing.

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