KentuckyFC writes: Any proof that quantum cryptography is perfect relies on idealised assumptions that don't always hold true in the real world. One such assumption is related to the types of errors that creep in to quantum messages. Alice and Bob always keep a careful eye on the level of errors in their messages because they know that Eve will introduce errors if she intercepts and reads any of the quantum bits in a message. So a high error rate is a sign that the message is being overheard. But it is impossible to get rid of errors entirely so Alice and Bob have to tolerate a small level of error. This level is well known. Various proofs show that if the quantum bit error rate is less than 20 per cent, then the message is secure. However, these proofs assume that the errors are the result of noise from the environment. Now physicists have come up with an attack based on the realisation that Alice also introduces errors when she prepares the required quantum states to send to Bob. This extra noise allows Eve to intercept some of the quantum bits, read them and then send them on, in a way that raises the error rate to only 19.7 per cent. In this kind of "intercept and resend attack", the error rate stays below the 20 per cent threshold and Alice and Bob are none the wiser, happily exchanging keys while Eve listens in unchallenged. The physicists say they have successfully used their hack on a commercial quantum cryptography system from the Geneva-based start up ID Quantique.
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