[ISN] Fiber Optics, as Never Been Seen

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Mon Mar 18 2002 - 23:35:16 PST

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    By Mark K. Anderson 
    2:00 a.m. March 18, 2002 PST 
    the idea of carrying phone conversations with light may date back to
    1880, but its implementation took an entire century. It was only in
    the 1980s that fiber optic channels were first integrated into
    commercial phone networks.
    In the intervening years, much has stayed the same -- scientists and
    engineers still want to cram more and more zeroes and ones into those
    familiar hair-thin wires of glass. But major advancements appear to be
    on the way.
    Next week, Anaheim, California, will host about 25,000 researchers as
    they gather for the nation's leading fiber optics conference, the
    Optical Fiber Communications Conference and Exhibit.
    One of the more intriguing ideas to be presented involves using
    chaotic behavior across fiber networks as a method of encryption.
    According to Jia-ming Liu, professor of electrical engineering at
    UCLA, the emerging field of chaotic communications offers new crypto
    applications in both optical and wireless systems.
    "I didn't invent this concept," he said. "But the entire field of
    chaotic communication is pretty new."
    His system, he said, starts with a laser that sends part of its beam
    into photo detectors which produce electrical signal that feed back to
    help power the laser. The resulting circuit behaves erratically --
    something like the feedback you hear at a concert when the performer
    wanders too close to his stack of amps.
    Liu has found that if he picks his lasers carefully, he can set up two
    such nonlinear (chaotic) circuits whose feedback behavior is the same.
    Thus, if you have a message that needs to get from Albuquerque to
    Boston without being snooped on, you place a laser in each city. After
    the two lasers have been synchronized over an open channel, you add
    your message signal on top of the sending chaotic laser. And once the
    signal reaches Boston, you use the Boston laser to subtract off the
    chaos -- and to get the original message.
    "Any eavesdropper who tried to tap your message would just receive
    noise -- akin to listening to static instead of the radio," he said.
    On Thursday, Liu will report that his team has transmitted messages
    using this chaotic crypto method at the benchmark speed of 2.5 Gbps --
    also called the OC-48 level.
    In fact, this speed is comparable to the rate that much non-encrypted,
    long-distance telephone and Internet traffic travels at today.
    "Today, most of the 'long-haul' traffic is either 2.5 or 10 gigabits
    per second," said Ivan Kaminow, former senior science advisor at the
    Optical Society of America. "A lot of research is now exploring 40
    gigabits per second."
    Indeed, one paper to be presented by a group from Agere Systems --
    will be reporting a record-setting fiber optic transmission rate of
    3.2 Tbps (trillion bits [terabits] per second).
    Of course, fiber isn't the only potential bottleneck in the system.
    Bishwaroop Ganguly of MIT is working on his PhD, examining the
    interaction between the optical and the old-fashioned electronic
    components in a network. On Wednesday, he'll be presenting work that
    offers a new, more integrated model for conducting network traffic
    with both optical and electronic signals.
    Such a system, he said, could enable a best-of-both-worlds Internet --
    in which the Net itself would intelligently switch between using
    electronic switching systems for brief packets of data, such as Web
    pages, while optical switches would handle the bigger chunks such as
    MP3s or movie downloads.
    "We're looking at more of a symbiotic relationship between electronic
    sub-systems and optical sub-systems, where the electronics handle what
    they're good at -- which is small transactions," he said.
    "So consider a Web page. You wouldn't want to set up an optical
    connection for each JPEG. But if you're transferring files from one
    workstation to another, it would be nice if that could go all
    optically and bypass the electronic routers."
    Still, with all the applied and basic science being presented in
    Anaheim, one basic question is still very much up in the air: Will
    users see fiber optic lines coming into their home anytime soon?
    Ganguly said his system is being designed mostly for businesses. But
    he also said that it's a truism of the Internet that as bandwidth
    increases for individual users, new applications always emerge to fill
    "The point is there are existing applications," he said. "But there's
    another paradigm here too: Build it and they will come."
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