In a process that sounds straight out of a science fiction movie, Purdue researchers have made a potentially invaluable advancement in the quest for secure network communications: the ability to completely hide data transmissions over a network for a designated period of time. Aptly named “temporal cloaking,” the technique far surpasses prior attempts at concealing data transmissions, and presents exciting possibilities for future secure optical communications.
Previous efforts at cloaking, most notably of which took place at Cornell University back in 2011, used “split time lenses” to conceal data transmission by bending light around an object, thus making it “invisible.” More recently, however, Purdue researchers abandoned efforts to bend light and instead utilized a complex “femtosecond laser” to create interference in optical communications. “The temporal cloak idea is built on the same principles [as bending light], but in this case light waves are pulled apart then compressed to generate time pockets that cloak events” (Whitman, extremetech.com). While they succeeded in achieving an official temporal cloak, the Purdue researchers could only create small “pockets” that concealed data for a tiny fraction of the transmission time available. Not to mention, the femtosecond laser isn’t exactly something you’d find lying around the house.
The researchers again modified their approach and used common devices called “phase modulators” to interfere with the pulses of light that represent ones and zeros in fiber-optic communication. Specifically, the signal is manipulated to “have zero intensity when the data are ‘on,’ cloaking the information. Then the cloak converts the pulses back to a flat signal, hiding the fact that any data were transmitted” (Luken, purdue.edu). Essentially, not only is the content of the data transmission hidden, but there is no evidence that it ever took place.
Purdue University graduate student Joseph Lukens pointed out one of the most appealing aspects of the new phase modulator cloaking procedure: “it does use technology that could integrate smoothly into the existing telecommunications infrastructure” (Venere, purdue.edu). It was built with off-the-shelf components commonly found in commercial optical communications, making it “… a feasible security technology in the long run just by refining our current technology (Knapp, forbes.com).
Having seemingly overcome the two primary problems with past temporal cloaking procedures—the need for readily available materials and the ability to conceal data transmissions for significant periods of time—researchers are closer than ever to achieving practicable, large-scale, secure data communications.
“Take That, NSA – Scientists Hide Communications Using A Hole In Time”
“Physicists Create a Hole In Time to Hide Events”
Alex Knapp, forbes.com
“’Temporal cloaking’ could bring more secure optical communications”
Emil Venere, purdue.edu
“A temporal cloak at telecommunication data rate”
Joseph M. Lukens, Daniel E. Leaird, and Andrew M. Weiner, nature.com
“Researchers create temporal cloak that can erase digital data from history”
Ryan Whitwam, extremetech.com