Members of an EU-backed consortium are taking the fast-track to developing a cutting-edge technique which could significantly improve data security and provide a valuable boost to the Union's eEurope initiative.
One of the most advanced data encryption systems developed to date could go into commercial use within three years, thanks to the work of the EU project OCCULT. The work carried out under the IST (Information Society Technologies) programme, represents a measurable stride forward in laser-based chaotic carriers to transmit data, such as confidential documents or financial exchanges, through fibre-optics.
|Europe's hunt for more sophisticated and secure data transmission|
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“Traditional systems rely on software encryption, [using] keys to code and decode information, but advances in computer processing speeds are putting data encrypted via this method at risk,” explains the project coordinator Claudio Mirasso of Spain's Balearic Islands University. Their idea is to use hardware – i.e. the senders and receivers of the information – to carry out the encryption, which can be used in combination with software encoding to create two levels of security.
OCCULT's technique relies on having two sets of semiconductor lasers, which are virtually identical, sending and receiving information over fibre-optic cables. The light transmitted by these lasers is non-linear and chaotic so only a receiver synchronised with the emitter can decode the data, making it almost impossible for the transmission to be decrypted by someone other than the intended recipient, explains IST Results .
No need for invisible ink
For high-security transmissions, the lasers would have to operate with a tolerance level of just 1 or 2%, something that can only be achieved if they are made with the same equipment and the same components at the same time. “The lasers not only have to come from the same batch of semiconductors but literally be produced side-by-side because, once you get further down the line, the differences increase,” stresses Mirasso.
The EU supported the €3.11 million project, through its initiatives aimed at future and emerging technologies (FET), to the tune of €1.74 million. Having carried out lab tests of the system within the three-year IST project, the long list of project partners from across Europe are now looking to start field trials.
Their continuing work could lead to an optical chaos encryption system being commercialised in about three years, according to Mirasso, noting that the potential market is vast. “Because the technique can be used over existing fibre-optic cables, it would be relatively cheap to employ, with the only additional components being the emitter and receiver.”