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Schmitt-Manderbach, Tobias (2007): Long distance free-space quantum key distribution. Dissertation, LMU München: Faculty of Physics
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Abstract

In the age of information and globalisation, secure communication as well as the protection of sensitive data against unauthorised access are of utmost importance. Quantum cryptography currently provides the only way to exchange a cryptographic key between two parties in an unconditionally secure fashion. Owing to losses and noise of today's optical fibre and detector technology, at present quantum cryptography is limited to distances below a few 100 km. In principle, larger distances could be subdivided into shorter segments, but the required quantum repeaters are still beyond current technology. An alternative approach for bridging larger distances is a satellite-based system, that would enable secret key exchange between two arbitrary points on the globe using free-space optical communication. The aim of the presented experiment was to investigate the feasibility of satellite-based global quantum key distribution. In this context, a free-space quantum key distribution experiment over a real distance of 144 km was performed. The transmitter and the receiver were situated in 2500 m altitude on the Canary Islands of La Palma and Tenerife, respectively. The small and compact transmitter unit generated attenuated laser pulses, that were sent to the receiver via a 15-cm optical telescope. The receiver unit for polarisation analysis and detection of the sent pulses was integrated into an existing mirror telescope designed for classical optical satellite communications. To ensure the required stability and efficiency of the optical link in the presence of atmospheric turbulence, the two telescopes were equipped with a bi-directional automatic tracking system. Still, due to stray light and high optical attenuation, secure key exchange would not be possible using attenuated pulses in connection with the standard BB84 protocol. The photon number statistics of attenuated pulses follows a Poissonian distribution. Hence, by removing a photon from all pulses containing two or more photons, an eavesdropper could measure its polarisation without disturbing the polarisation state of the remaining pulse. In this way, he can gain information about the key without introducing detectable errors. To protect against such attacks, the presented experiment employed the recently developed method of using additional "decoy" states, i.e., the the intensity of the pulses created by the transmitter were varied in a random manner. By analysing the detection probabilities of the different pulses individually, a photon-number-splitting attack can be detected. Thanks to the decoy-state analysis, the secrecy of the resulting quantum key could be ensured despite the Poissonian nature of the emitted pulses. For a channel attenuation as high as 35 dB, a secret key rate of up to 250 bit/s was achieved. Our outdoor experiment was carried out under real atmospheric conditions and with a channel attenuation comparable to an optical link from ground to a satellite in low earth orbit. Hence, it definitely shows the feasibility of satellite-based quantum key distribution using a technologically comparatively simple system.