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Concept# Quantum key distribution

Summary

Quantum key distribution (QKD) is a secure communication method that implements a cryptographic protocol involving components of quantum mechanics. It enables two parties to produce a shared random secret key known only to them, which then can be used to encrypt and decrypt messages. The process of quantum key distribution is not to be confused with quantum cryptography, as it is the best-known example of a quantum-cryptographic task.
An important and unique property of quantum key distribution 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 that 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 it). Otherwise no secure key is possible, and communication is aborted.
The security of encryption that uses quantum key distribution 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 mathematical proof as to the actual complexity of reversing the one-way functions used. QKD has provable security based on information theory, and forward secrecy.
The main drawback of quantum-key distribution is that it usually relies on having an authenticated classical channel of communication. In modern cryptography, having an authenticated classical channel means that one already has exchanged either a symmetric key of sufficient length or public keys of sufficient security level.

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Quantum cryptography is the science of exploiting quantum mechanical properties to perform cryptographic tasks. The best known example of quantum cryptography is quantum key distribution which offers an information-theoretically secure solution to the key exchange problem. The advantage of quantum cryptography lies in the fact that it allows the completion of various cryptographic tasks that are proven or conjectured to be impossible using only classical (i.e. non-quantum) communication.

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Quantum information science is a field that combines the principles of quantum mechanics with information science to study the processing, analysis, and transmission of information. It covers both theoretical and experimental aspects of quantum physics, including the limits of what can be achieved with quantum information. The term quantum information theory is sometimes used, but it does not include experimental research and can be confused with a subfield of quantum information science that deals with the processing of quantum information.

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