Never mind NFC and EMV -- a team of Dutch researchers claims to have harnessed the power of quantum mechanics in a way that could make payment card fraud a thing of the past, Finextra reported on Tuesday (Dec. 16).
In a letter published in the journal Optica, the researchers outlined how the peculiar quantum properties of photons, which allow them to be in multiple locations at the same time, can be used to authenticate a physical security key through a Q&A exchange.
Put simply, an area of a payment card would be coated with a thin layer of white paint containing millions of nanoparticles. Then a laser could project individual photons of light into the paint, where they would bounce around the nanoparticles ("like metal balls in a pinball machine," the researchers write) until they escape back to the surface, creating the pattern used to authenticate the card.
Then a card reader sending a pattern of single quantum photons into the paint would see a reflected pattern that would appear to have more points of light than the number of photons projected. Any attacker attempting to intercept the "question" would destroy the quantum properties of the light and capture only a fraction of the information needed to authenticate the transaction.
That makes it the quantum-secure authentication version of a one-way cryptographic function, but practical in merchant card readers because of the low cost of lasers and projectors that are already available, the researchers said.