The safety of many countries depends on their ability to defend themselves during times of war, which often requires transporting secret messages. Each country has their own spies that are responsible for obtaining and transferring this information securely. As technology has advanced, much of this secret information is stored in password protected systems. Computers often generate these passwords which makes it possible for them to be hacked. This has caused ongoing research to develop secure ways of hiding information physically. One of these is chemical cryptography, which involves creating passwords made from atomic structures.
Although not currently on the market, the technology shows immense potential. Messages would be secured by coding them in the form of small molecules, that would be absorbed by a napkin. They could only be decrypted using the key, which would be the molecule’s structure. The method has been developed by German company Karlsruher Institut fur Technologie. Their molecular library has at least 500,000 keys that, because of their structural diversification, would be impossible to decode without the sample. The message can also only be revealed after being scanned with the same equipment used by microbiologists to analyze new compounds in their research. Researchers plan on expanding the technology to including DNA which would increase the number of keys that could be made, making passwords even more secure.
The small size of molecular keypad locks also makes them difficult to detect. This is a form of steganography, where both the locks and keys are hidden. This technology was first developed in 2007, with the possibility of only one password being used per lock. Researchers have recently found ways to allow locks to have multiple passwords, according to a study published in Journal of the American Chemical Society. Most florescent molecular sensors generate discreet optical signals but the one used was able to generate a unique optical ‘fingerprint’ for each chemical, making it possible to differentiate between them.
This inclusion enables the system to operate like both an electronic keypad lock, which can be opened by entering the correct password, and a biometric lock, opened by recognizing a unique signature (such as a fingerprint). Electronic locks have accessible entry keys, placed on the keypad, and can be opened by anybody that knows the password. Biometric locks are more secure as each user carries their own key. The molecular keypad lock would require both a password and optical fingerprint and would increase security even more, as the key is chemical and the correct password would need to be entered.