St Andrews University develops ‘unhackable’ silicon chip

New optical silicon chips have been developed in response to the growing capabilities of crypto-hackers and quantum computers

The University of St Andrews has helped develop a new ‘unhackable’ communications technology, which could revolutionise secure messaging.

An international team of scientists has developed a silicon optical chip that can transmit information to a partner device and encrypt each message with a unique key only a partner chip can decode.

The chips’ complex structures are changed irreversibly after each message is sent, giving each new communication its own unique key print, which would be impossible to intercept or decipher.

Keys generated by the chip, which unlock each message, are not stored or communicated with the message, and cannot be recreated.

The development means “crypto-hackers will have to look for another job”, researchers said.

The results of the tests are published in the scientific journal Nature Communications and could open a new route in cryptography.

The system is far more secure than traditional public classical communications channels, its inventors have said.

Quantum computers are soon predicted to be able to crack existing communication methods and networks. The new silicon optical chips are cheaper to make and require less space than conventional messaging networks.

It can be used to protect the confidentiality of communications exchanged by users separated by any distance, at an ultrafast speed close to the light limit and in inexpensive and electronic compatible optical chips
– Prof Andrea di Falco, University of St Andrews

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Prof Andrea di Falco, from the school of physics and astronomy at the University of St Andrews, said: “This new technique is absolutely unbreakable, as we rigorously demonstrated in our article.

“It can be used to protect the confidentiality of communications exchanged by users separated by any distance, at an ultrafast speed close to the light limit and in inexpensive and electronic compatible optical chips.”

The chips were developed in conjunction with the Center for Unconventional Processes of Sciences (CUP Sciences) and the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST).

Leader of the study, Dr Andrea Fratalocchi, associate professor of electrical engineering at KAUST, said: “With the advent of more powerful and quantum computers, all current encryptions will be broken in very short time, exposing the privacy of our present and, more importantly, past communications.

“For instance, an attacker can store an encrypted message that is sent today and wait for the right technology to become available to decipher the communication.

“Implementing massive and affordable resources of global security is a worldwide problem that this research has the potential to solve for everyone, and everywhere.”

The paper, Perfect secrecy cryptography via mixing of chaotic waves in irreversible time-varying silicon chips, has been published in Nature Communications.

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