by Balasundaram

This was the topic which i took as seminar on 08-01-10 . Some valuable points about this topic…………

Quantum cryptography, or quantum key distribution (QKD), uses quantum mechanics to guarantee secure communication. It enables two parties to produce a shared random bit string known only to them, which can be used as a key to encrypt and decrypt messages.

An important and unique property of quantum cryptography is the ability of the two communicating users to detect the presence of any third party trying to gain knowledge of the key. This results from a fundamental aspect of quantum mechanics: the process of measuring a quantum system in general disturbs the system. A third party trying to eavesdrop on the key must in some way measure it, thus introducing detectable anomalies. By using quantum superpositions or quantum entanglement and transmitting information in quantum states, a communication system can be implemented which detects eavesdropping. If the level of eavesdropping is below a certain threshold, a key can be produced that is guaranteed to be secure (i.e. the eavesdropper has no information about), otherwise no secure key is possible and communication is aborted.

The security of quantum cryptography relies on the foundations of quantum mechanics, in contrast to traditional public key cryptography which relies on the computational difficulty of certain mathematical functions, and cannot provide any indication of eavesdropping or guarantee of key security.

Quantum cryptography is only used to produce and distribute a key, not to transmit any message data. This key can then be used with any chosen encryption algorithm to encrypt (and decrypt) a message, which can then be transmitted over a standard communication channel. The algorithm most commonly associated with QKD is the one-time pad, as it is provably secure when used with a secret, random key.


This protocol, known as BB84 after its inventors and year of publication, was originally described using photon polarization states to transmit the information. However, any two pairs of conjugate states can be used for the protocol, and many optical fibre based implementations described as BB84 use phase encoded states. The sender (traditionally referred to as Alice) and the receiver (Bob) are connected by a quantum communication channel which allows quantum states to be transmitted. In the case of photons this channel is generally either an optical fibre or simply free space. In addition they communicate via a public classical channel, for example using broadcast radio or the internet. Neither of these channels need to be secure; the protocol is designed with the assumption that an eavesdropper (referred to as Eve) can interfere in any way with both.

The security of the protocol comes from encoding the information in non-orthogonal states. Quantum indeterminacy means that these states cannot in general be measured without disturbing the original state. BB84 uses two pairs of states, with each pair conjugate to the other pair, and the two states within a pair orthogonal to each other. Pairs of orthogonal states are referred to as a basis. The usual polarization state pairs used are either the rectilinear basis of vertical (0°) and horizontal (90°), the diagonal basis of 45° and 135° or the circular basis of left- and right-handedness. Any two of these bases are conjugate to each other, and so any two can be used in the protocol. Below the rectilinear and diagonal bases are used.

The first step in BB84 is quantum transmission. Alice creates a random bit (0 or 1) and then randomly selects one of her two bases (rectilinear or diagonal in this case) to transmit it in. She then prepares a photon polarization state depending both on the bit value and basis, as shown in the table to the left. So for example a 0 is encoded in the rectilinear basis (+) as a vertical polarization state, and a 1 is encoded in the diagonal basis (x) as a 135° state. Alice then transmits a single photon in the state specified to Bob, using the quantum channel. This process is then repeated from the random bit stage, with Alice recording the state, basis and time of each photon sent.

According to quantum mechanics no possible measurement distinguishes between the 4 different polarization states, as they are not all orthogonal. The only possible measurement is between any two orthogonal states (a basis). So, for example, measuring in the rectilinear basis gives a result of horizontal or vertical. If the photon was created as horizontal or vertical then this measures the correct state, but if it was created as 45° or 135°  then the rectilinear measurement instead returns either horizontal or vertical at random. Furthermore, after this measurement the photon is polarized in the state it was measured in (horizontal or vertical), with all information about its initial polarization lost.

These are some of the points about quantum cryptography and the protocol used in it………………………………….