With a new device set to make unbreakable, quantum-based cryptographic security available for everyone for the very first time, ordinary people will be able to use cryptographic systems that – until recently – only existed as experiments in the most advanced physics laboratories.

Using technology developed at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and incorporating the quantum mechanics of random photon polarization, the new device generates random numbers and creates cryptographic keys so fast and so securely that the technology is said to revolutionize high-speed cryptography and offer a completely new commercial platform for real-time encryption at high data rates.

This claimed breakthrough is made possible by taking advantage of the various spin states of photons. In line with quantum wave theory, a photon exists in all spin states at once. However, if a photon is passed through a polarizing filter that rejects given spin states, the photon can be made to exhibit just one of four possible states of spin – vertical, horizontal, left, or right.

In this way, random filters may be applied to photons, which in turn, represent ones or zeroes of binary data, dependent on the state of spin selected and the binary notation attributed to it.

However, in accordance with Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, once the photon is polarized we can not then accurately measure it again, unless we apply a filter to it at the end of its journey just like the one it went through at the start to measure its spin state. This means that – provided you know the filter sequence required to decode the incoming photon stream – only the receiver can then read off the encoded data.

More importantly, anyone attempting to intercept the resulting data stream cannot eavesdrop on the transmission because any attempted observation of a quantum system also alters it, and the quantum state changes resulting from attempted unauthorized reading would be immediately detected.

LANL has partnered with Whitewood Encryption Systems to market this device which, when released, may well effectively render any other conventional random number generation system system obsolete. Current systems based on mathematical formulas that can be broken by a computer with sufficient speed and power will not be able to compete with a system that is built on a truly random system that cannot be second-guessed.

"Quantum systems represent the best hope for truly secure data encryption because they store or transmit information in ways that are unbreakable by conventional cryptographic methods," said Duncan McBranch, Chief Technology Officer at LANL. "This licensing agreement with Whitewood Encryption Systems, Inc. is historic in that it takes our groundbreaking technical work that was developed over two decades into commercial encryption applications."

Purported to be simple and small enough to be made into a USB key drive or similarly-sized unit, the LANL device is also claimed to be exceptionally inexpensive to manufacture, meaning that quantum-based random photon polarization encryption could be made available to anyone. Personal data transmission security would then become cheap, pervasive, and ubiquitous.

But more than this, if this device is successfully brought to market and implemented on a worldwide scale, quantum key distribution technology could one day guarantee truly secure commerce, banking, communications, and data transfer on an unprecedented scale.