Publication Details: UM-CS-2014-004

Covert Optical Communication

Publication Type:Technical Report
Author(s):B. A. Bash, A. Gheorghe, M. Patel, J. Habif, D. Goeckel, D. F. Towsley, S. Guha
Abstract:Encryption prevents unauthorized decoding, but does not ensure stealth---a security demand that a mere presence of a message be undetectable. We characterize the ultimate limit of covert communication that is secure against the most powerful physically-permissible adversary. We show that, although it is impossible over a pure-loss channel, covert communication is attainable in the presence of any excess noise, such as a 300K thermal blackbody. In this case, O(sqrt{n}) bits can be transmitted reliably and covertly in n optical modes using standard optical communication equipment. The all-powerful adversary may intercept all transmitted photons not received by the intended receiver, and employ arbitrary quantum memory and measurements. Conversely, we show that this square root scaling cannot be outperformed. We corroborate our theory in a proof-of-concept experiment. We believe that our findings will enable practical realizations of covert communication and sensing, both for point-to-point and networked scenarios.
Submitted on:2014-04-28