Lithuanian lasers: reliable ammunition in the fight against COVID-19 and hackers

2021-10-28
Lithuanian lasers: reliable ammunition in the fight against COVID-19 and hackers

We live in precarious times, when danger often can`t be seen with the naked eye. The SARS-CoV-2 virus is one of today’s greatest threats, but another challenge awaits us soon – in a few years, so-called ‘quantum hackers’ [1] could become one of the internet’s biggest security threats. Fortunately, there is a solution – using lasers to protect our data. Lasers could help to overcome a range of digital threats, and can be implemented in compact devices within the network infrastructure. A breakthrough in this and many other areas has become possible due to long-term cooperation between Lithuanian company Integrated Optics and its German partners. 

Hacking telecom systems in seconds

Quantum computing is a great tool for humanity. It can be used to optimize complex systems in the cities and factories of the future, or help to address health crises such as the current COVID-19 pandemic. However, like many other inventions, it could also become a major challenge to governments and societies. As soon as 2025, algorithms running on a quantum computer could be used to hack today’s most advanced encryption keys in seconds. To combat such threats, specialists say quantum cryptography technology needs to make the leap from the early research phase directly into large-scale implementation, as many networks may already be facing similar security issues on a smaller scale.

“The only way to solve this issue is to use quantum tools at the heart of a cryptography node – such as a narrow spectrum laser,” says Evaldas Pabreza, CEO of high-tech laser manufacturer Integrated Optics. “Narrow-spectrum lasers produce identical photons that behave in the same way, even when they are separated over a long distance from one another. As a result, we can detect an attempt to hack into systems or networks immediately. However, we need to upgrade the network infrastructure too.”.

The company already applies this solution in the US and UK markets, but will soon contribute towards European initiatives for quantum-safe communication, as EU governments push for the use of domestic suppliers for critical components of the system such as lasers.

Laser solution to the COVID-19 crisis

Pabreza also points to another of the company`s achievements: cooperating with producers of spectroscopy instruments to develop high-throughput analytical systems. His company produces the world’s most compact laser sources, which allow customers to miniaturize their devices, shrinking even stand-alone laboratory instruments into portable ones. These much smaller devices are a prerequisite for more accessible medical diagnostics. For example, some types of lasers are effective in diagnosing early-stage cancers, while violet-wavelength lasers are useful for testing thermal storage conditions for vaccines. 532-nanometre lasers can even detect and identify viruses and bacteria in under five minutes – an ability that could provide a game changing solution in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our goal is to deliver very compact and robust laser sources for real-world applications,” says the Integrated Optics CEO. “This has become possible due to our close cooperation with counterparts in Germany since 2014. Lithuania has the highest number of laser engineers per capita in the world, but we lack opportunities to apply this useful technology in the local market. Germany, on the other hand, is a wonderful fit – hundreds of lab-scale laser applications are developed here. Our mission is to participate in bringing these applications into the real world. In order to do so, we must deliver easy-to-integrate and affordable laser sources. We are addressing the issue with the most compact laser source for life science applications in the world, called MatchBox. As the name suggests, it is a laser that fits into a matchbox-sized housing – which saves on shipping, storage and maintenance costs, as well as using fewer materials.”

According to Pabreza, the future of laser technology is bright, with many more opportunities for its application. For example, the automotive industry – one of the sectors in which his company operates – can expect a huge boost when LiDAR (a distance-measuring technology that works by targeting objects using a laser) takes off, as soon as laser and sensor engineers are able to offer the right solution at the right price.

Integrated Optics is a certified high-tech manufacturer of very compact laser sources for spectroscopy, flow cytometry and LiDAR applications. Based in Lithuania, the company was established in 2012 and currently prosecutes six core patent applications, cooperating mainly with companies in Germany, followed by France, the UK and Italy. 

[1] A specialised type of hackers who use quantum computers to break conventional encryption based on mathematical algorithms.

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