Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Iowa Caucuses Security: Can Quantum Physics Help?

Image credit: AP via CBS News.

Today, Republican presidential candidates are vying to win the Iowa caucuses. Although winning in Iowa doesn't guarantee the nomination by any means, past results suggest it's a decent predictor of victory. Recent winners who went on to win the nomination for their party include Barack Obama (D), John Kerry (D), Al Gore (D) and George W. Bush (R) in 2000.

The Iowa caucuses can have a significant impact on Presidential campaigns, and the security and integrity of the vote have become a growing concern. This year, a video purportedly posted by a member of the hacker group Anonymous has threatened to shut down the election event's website and disrupt the results. But new advances in quantum cryptography already implemented in foreign elections could help make these votes more secure.

Quantum cryptography—a growing field within the security industry—relies on fundamental quantum mechanics to make sure that transferred data isn't intercepted or altered. The simple act of observing or measuring a quantum mechanical system causes a disturbance. Consequently, if anyone tries to intercept or alter data that is quantum mechanically encrypted, the data itself is changed. This means that users of the system will be alerted to the presence of an eavesdropper. In other words, an eavesdropper will always leave a mark.

So far, several companies have created systems that rely on this technique, and the technique has even been used in Swiss elections. ID Quantique, the company behind the quantum encryption network for a 2007 Swiss election, have been using photons to send data discreetly. Users can use different properties of photons to transmit data, such as polarization or the amount of time traveled by the photon. Recently, the company has started using this system to transmit private banking data.

With quantum cryptography, it would certainly be more difficult to hack into a system and alter election results. Other parts of the security chain could still be open to attack, however. Stay tuned tonight and tomorrow morning for the results. And if Julian Assange—the Wikileaks founder who was supported by the Anonymous hacking group in 2011—is announced as the winner, GOP organizers may want to consider some new quantum security measures.

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