Ben-Gurion University Researchers Find Better Way to Counter Cyberspying

The man who is lord of the land spoke harshly to us and accused us of spying on the land. Genesis 42:30, The Israel Bible

Keeping vital data safe from prying eyes has become increasingly challenging as cyberspying – obtaining secrets and information without permission from individuals, competitors, rivals, groups, governments and enemies for personal, economic, political or military advantage using methods on the Internet – becomes a daily phenomenon. 

Now, researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) in Beersheba have developed a first-ever, exclusively optical encryption method that includes encryption, stealthy transmission, decryption and detection capabilities. It could take years for a snoop to break the encryption key. The technology will be presented by BGN Technologies at the Cybertech Tel Aviv conference this week. 

BGN Technologies is BGU’s technology transfer company that brings technological innovations from the lab to the market and fosters research collaborations and entrepreneurship among researchers and students. It has so far established over 100 startup companies in the fields of biotech, hi-tech, and cleantech and has initiated leading technology hubs, incubators and accelerators. Over the past decade, BGN Technologies has focused on creating long-term partnerships with multinational corporations such as Deutsche Telekom, Dell-EMC, PayPal and Lockheed Martin, securing value and growth for BGU as well as the Negev region.  

Currently, data is encrypted on the digital level and is decoded once it arrives at its destination. This encryption strategy suffers from several limitations, including the ever-increasing, high power computing (HPC) capabilities that may be used for “code breaking” and the availability of time for decryption, as it may be executed offline.

photo of Prof. Dan Sadot (BGN Technologies )

The new method was invented by Prof. Dan Sadot, chairman of the Electro-Optics Faculty at BGU, and his team. It makes possible the transmission of information hidden below the “noise level” (below the background light existing in optical fiber networks due to spontaneous emission of light sources in the network), thereby generating a stealthy encryption. Because an eavesdropper can neither read the data nor even detect the existence of the transmitted signal, optical stealth transmission provides a high level of privacy and security. 

Using mathematical signal processing tools and optical implementation, the digital signal is encrypted at the physical, optic level. This is done by spreading the optically transmitted information over multiple light wavelengths (colors), where each color element is extremely weak, below the noise level, so it makes them invisible. 

This novel technology uses an optical transmission system that encrypts all the information as a whole, thereby rendering it also cost effective. The receiving side receives the encrypted optical signal and is given the optical code so as to then coherently rebuild the information anew. This all-optical technology is an extension of the digital optical encryption method originally invented by Sadot and his team in collaboration with engineering Prof. Zeev Zalevsky of Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv. 

“Our invention offers a paradigm shift in encryption because we offer encryption at the physical, light level,” explained Sadot. “With our all-optical encryption technology, even the existence of the transmission is hidden. In addition, because the transmission is optical, the information cannot be recorded for the purpose of offline analysis – once recorded the information is destroyed.” 

“The novel, patented, method invented by Prof. Sadot and his team is highly useful for multiple applications, such as high-speed communication, transition of sensitive information, financial or medical information, and social media-related information, without the risk of tapping or jamming information flow,” concluded Zafrir Levy, senior vice president for exact sciences and engineering at BGN Technologies. “In fact, with the novel method, an eavesdropper will require years to break the encryption key. We are now seeking an industry partner to implement and commercialize this game-changing technology.”