Quantum cryptography is an exciting new field which has the potential to enable highly secure digital communication using existing technology. Quantum cryptography is an effort to allow two users of a common communication channel to create a body of shared and secret information. This information, which generally takes the form of a random string of bits, can then be used as a conventional secret key for secure communication. It is useful to assume that the communicating parties initially share a small amount of secret information, which is used up and then renewed in the exchange process, but even without this assumption exchanges are possible.
The advantage of quantum cryptography over traditional key exchange methods is that the exchange of information can be shown to be secure in a very strong sense, without making assumptions about the intractability of certain mathematical problems. Even when assuming hypothetical eavesdroppers with unlimited computing power, the laws of physics guarantee (probabilistically) that the secret key exchange will be secure, given a few other assumptions.
However its claim to offer absolute and unconditional communications security needs to be significantly qualified for real-world noisy channels and non-ideal single-photon transmitters. A number of technical advances will be required if the technique is to be widely used. These include the development of long distance key exchange systems using low earth orbit satellites or fibre-optic quantum repeaters, and the development of high bit rate single-photon transmitters.
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