Forget chip and PIN, Dutch researchers claim to have harnessed the power of quantum mechanics in a way that could be used to make card fraud a thing of the past.
In a paper posted in journal Optica, the team outline how the peculiar quantum properties of photons, that allow them to be in multiple locations at the same time, can be used to authenticate a physical "key" through a Q&A exchange.
The idea is to coat an area of a payment card with a thin layer of white paint containing millions of nanoparticles. Then a laser could project individual photons of light into the paint where they would bounce around the nanoparticles "like metal balls in a pinball machine" until they escape back to the surface, creating the pattern used to authenticate the card.
A bank sending a pattern of single quantum photons into the paint, would see a reflected pattern that would appear to have more information - or points of light - than the number of photons projected. Any attacker attempting to intercept the “question” would destroy the quantum properties of the light and capture only a fraction of the information needed to authenticate the transaction.
Says the paper's lead author, Pepijn Pinkse from the University of Twente: "It would be like dropping 10 bowling balls onto the ground and creating 200 separate impacts. It’s impossible to know precisely what information was sent (what pattern was created on the floor) just by collecting the 10 bowling balls. If you tried to observe them falling, it would disrupt the entire system."
Quantum-Secure Authentication could be employed in numerous situations relatively easily, since it uses simple and cheap technology -- such as lasers and projectors -- that is already available, he says.