ECE assistant professor Boulat Bash has received a $500,000 National Science Foundation CAREER Award for his research in applying quantum resources to covert channels. Previously, he demonstrated how using quantum resources can substantially increase the limit on information that can be sent reliably over a covert channel. Now, he is focusing on sensing, rather than communication.
“The CAREER Award is very competitive, and many winners don’t receive it until their second or third try,” said ECE department head Tamal Bose. “I am proud of Boulat for winning the award on his first attempt, and excited to see the impact of his work in areas including military intelligence and organizations of civil unrest.”
Before computers can communicate, they must first learn about the channels on which they are communicating. That’s where sensing comes in: By transmitting signals that don’t carry information, parties can see how a channel might distort or affect an actual message. Tasks like sensing, communicating and computing are often done via classical processes, which are accomplished using bits of information made up of 0s and 1s. Quantum processes use qubits, which can exist as 0s and 1s at the same time, making them very powerful.
“When you add quantum, you add complexity to a system,” Bash said. “You have to add all sorts of gizmos that are difficult to make and that cost money.”
Radar systems, for example, operate in the realm where the noise and interference levels are high. However, classical radars also have high power levels, which they can use to push their transmissions through all the noise. Lidar, or laser-based, sensing systems, operate in the regime where the noise level is inherently low. Thus, classical lidar doesn’t need high power to overcome it.
A combination of both high noise and low transmitter power is very unusual, and difficult for any system to work in. However, these are the exact conditions needed for covert operations. Think about trying to move across a field undetected: You’d want lots of noise and other interference around to make you less noticeable. And you wouldn’t want to plow through in a high horsepower vehicle if you were trying to slip by unnoticed.
“To operate covertly, you have to have high noise so that you can hide your probes somewhere, and you have to have low power for the probes, because of the code requirements,” Bash said. “That corresponds very directly to the sweet spot of where quantum has the most benefit.”