[ISN] Breakthrough made in satellite encryption

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Thu Oct 03 2002 - 00:20:05 PDT

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    Forwarded from: William Knowles <wkat_private>
    By JIM KRANE, AP Technology Writer 
    NEW YORK (October 2, 2002 6:10 p.m. EDT) - Satellites are increasingly
    relied upon for military and intelligence use but securely
    transmitting voice, image and other communications remains
    In June, for instance, European satellite TV viewers could watch
    surveillance video of American military bases in Bosnia that was being
    broadcast in an unencrypted stream, via satellite.
    Now, British military researchers have improved an emerging method of
    secure transmission for the encryption keys used to unscramble such
    In a demonstration reported in this week's issue of the journal
    Nature, the researchers say they successfully exchanged encryption
    keys transmitted on a beam of invisible light.
    The researchers completed the exchange from the summits of
    mountaintops in southern Germany that are 14 miles apart.
    Within seven years, the technique ought to be able to transmit
    encryption keys to any receiving point on the planet, via low-orbiting
    satellite, said John Rarity, a scientist with QinetiQ, the commercial
    arm of Britain's defense research lab.
    Current encryption technology uses mathematical "keys" that are
    exchanged between trusting users. The keys are used to unscramble
    messages, video and other data.
    Such keys, made of random strings of digits, can be intercepted on
    conventional networks. So they are routinely sent by less efficient
    "At the moment, highly secure encryption keys are typically sent by a
    man on a motorbike or a guy with a diplomatic bag," Rarity said.
    Rarity and other researchers believe keys can be more reliably
    exchanged using methods of physics, rather than mathematics.
    QinetiQ's experiment involved attaching the key's digits to individual
    light particles, or photons, which are sent as a weak beam of light.
    The practice is believed to be safe because intercepting and reading
    the key noticeably alters the state of the photons, tipping off the
    intended recipient that the key has been compromised.
    QinetiQ isn't the only group researching the concept.
    Rarity said his team and a similar outfit at the U.S. Department of
    Energy's lab at Los Alamos, N.M., have been leapfrogging each other in
    the distances they've been able to send and receive their encryption
    key-toting light beams. Fourteen miles is the longest-yet
    transmission, he said.
    Only the keys used to unscramble the data must be sent via the light
    beams. The actual data could be sent in scrambled form via satellite
    or any sort of conveyance, Rarity said.
    "Once you've got your key, you can use your mobile phone or any other
    method," he said.
    In order to send light streams to low-orbiting satellites, Rarity said
    scientists need to improve the system's tolerance to loss of some of
    the data-carrying light particles, which "leak" in increasing amounts
    the farther the beam travels.
    No current satellite can handle such transmissions.
    Rarity said the practice, known as "quantum cryptography," would
    require construction and launch of new satellites.
    "Communications without intelligence is noise;  Intelligence
    without communications is irrelevant." Gen Alfred. M. Gray, USMC
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