Quantum technology used to embed security in objects

Scientists at Lancaster University have developed a way to embed unique security codes into any type of device, using quantum technology to create nano-scale identities which they claim can’t be cloned.

The research, published in Nature’s Scientific Reports, is being commercialised via Quantum Base, a spin-out company from the university. Known as Q-ID, the device operates without passwords or counterfeit tags that can be imitated. According to the system’s inventors, this marks a significant leap forward from current security solutions.

Electronically stimulating an atomically random system, represented above by a key, produces a unique pattern that can be used for authentication or identification
Electronically stimulating an atomically random system, represented above by a key, produces a unique pattern that can be used for authentication or identification.

“The invention involves the creation of devices with unique identities on a nano-scale employing…quantum technology,” said first author Jonathan Roberts, a Lancaster University Physics PhD student of the EPSRC NOWNANO Doctoral Training Centre. “Each device we’ve made is unique, 100 per cent secure and impossible to copy or clone.” 

Q-ID uses an electronic measurement with CMOS compatible technology, which the Lancaster team says can be easily integrated into existing chip manufacturing processes. On top of the primary security function, the device could also provide the ability to track and trace objects across a supply chain.

“One could imagine our devices being used to identify a broad range of products, whether it is authentication of branded goods, SIM cards, important manufacturing components, the possibilities are endless,” said Dr Robert Young, the research leader at Lancaster University and co-founder of Quantum Base.

According to the study, simulating the structures would require vast computing power and would not be achievable in a reasonable timescale, even using quantum computers. Due to the fact that the underlying structure is unknown unless pulled apart atom by atom, the security is virtually unbreakable.

“Q-IDs markedly increase the security gap between the good guys and the bad guys,” said Phil Speed, another co-founder of Quantum Base. “This is truly a step change in authentication and authorisation.”