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Quantum internet: The race is on to build an unhackable online world

Great leaps are already being made in creating a super secure quantum internet. It could overturn the role of information in our lives and give us a globe-spanning quantum supercomputer

Technology 26 May 2021

New Scientist Default Image

Ollie Hirst

MANY of us have uploaded our lives to the internet. Banking, work emails, social media, dating profiles, medical records – all that vital, sensitive information. So it is a little disconcerting that the internet has a fatal security flaw. Don’t panic; our private information is safe for now. But before very long the encryption algorithms that protect us online are going to crack.

That is the urgent driving force behind a new, more secure kind of internet that harnesses the power of the quantum realm. Once up and running, the system will be able to do a lot more than protect our data. It could bring us unforeseen quantum apps, and maybe become the scaffold for a world-spanning quantum computer of incredible power.

Building the quantum internet is a huge and multi-faceted engineering challenge, but the foundations are already being laid. Networks of fibres are spreading. Scientists are chatting in secret on local networks. There are even plans to use tiny satellites to enable long-distance quantum connections. Sooner or later, we could all be joining the quantum information superhighway.

Human culture and industry have long been based on information. If you could get the right kind of information, understand it and share it, you could gain power and profit. The rise of the internet as we know it cemented the role of information and we are only beginning to feel its profound effects. Now we are at the threshold of a new information age, which could change things all over again.

Conventional, classical computers deal in digital units called bits. This is the amount of information in …