Researchers at the Ben-Gurion University in Israel have developed the first all optical stealth encryption technology that will be significantly more secure and private for highly sensitive cloud-computing and data center network transmission.
"Today, information is still encrypted using digital techniques, although most data is transmitted over distance using light spectrum on fiber-optic networks," said Professor Dan Sadot, Director of the Optical Communications Research Laboratory, who heads the team that developed this new encryption technology.
Strength of encryption algorithms is technology dependent. Advances on quantum computing have manifested that the majority of known cryptographic algorithms may become obsolete with the use of ultra-high processing power computers. Also, until now, hackers who want to access hidden data can easily detect information being transferred on the internet and record it—even without understanding the information in real time—and then work offline on decoding the information at a later stage. Thus, a different data security paradigm had to be found.
"Time is running out on security and privacy of digital encryption technology, which can be read offline if recorded and code-broken using intensive computing power," said Professor Sadot.
The new technology was presented at the Cybertech Global Tel Aviv conference held on January 28-30, 2020 in Tel Aviv.
The optical stealth encryption technology is based on fiber optics. Fiber-optic cables carry information between two places using entirely optical (light-based) technology. The propagation of multiple data streams is achieved by transmitting light in different angles within the fiber-optic cable. The light carrying the information bounces within the cable until it reaches its destination.
The goal of the research team was to render the fiber-optic light transmission undetectable and stealthy by using standard optical equipment, and to overcome the drawbacks of digital encryption. They did this by taking information—either already encrypted or not—and spreading the data over several light waves in fiber optic cables.
“We've developed an end-to-end solution providing encryption, transmission, decryption, and detection optically instead of digitally,” said Professor Sadot.
Instead of using one color of the light spectrum to send one large data stream, this method spreads the transmission across many colors in the optical spectrum bandwidth, which is 1,000 times wider than the digital one. Furthermore, the new encryption method intentionally creates multiple weaker data streams which are hidden under noise and elude detection.
Every transmission, whether electronic, digital or fiber, has a certain amount of "noise." The researchers demonstrated that they were able to transmit weaker encrypted data hidden under a stronger inherent noise level so that the encrypted data cannot be detected.
To add an extra level of security the researchers employed a commercially available phase mask, which changes the phase (color) of each wavelength. That process also appears as noise, which destroys the "coherence" or ability to recompile the data without the correct encryption key. A great security benefit of the optical phase mask is that it cannot be recorded offline, so the data is destroyed if a hacker tries to decode it.
"Basically, the innovative breakthrough is that if you can't detect it, you can't steal it," Professor Sadot said. "Because an eavesdropper can neither read the data nor even detect the existence of the transmitted signal, our optical stealth transmission provides the highest level of privacy and security for sensitive data applications."
This novel encryption method is highly useful for multiple applications, such as high-speed communication, sensitive transmission of financial, medical or social media-related information. "Every data center has 100G and 400G lines, and part of those lines are encrypted end-to-end," Prof. Sadot says. There is a need for non-digital encryption for customers who require the most advanced security possible without the risk of eavesdropping or jamming data flow. “In fact, with this method, an eavesdropper will require years to break the encryption key," said Zafrir Levy, Senior Vice President, Exact Sciences & Engineering, BGN Technologies.