The digital underworld is employing increasingly sophisticated technologies to penetrate enterprise infrastructure, but in the continual game of one-upmanship new encryption technologies to thwart these efforts are emerging from the lab at a steady clip.

In this never-ending battle, however, we can expect to see occasional victories on both sides, so the question for data users is not who will win the war but whether they will wind up as one of the casualties. (Read: 10 Best Practices for Encryption Key Management and Data Security.)

A key vulnerability in the data chain is the network. Data in motion is particularly susceptible because of the numerous connection points in any network infrastructure, especially over the wide area. Each of these points represents an attack vector which must be hardened against intrusion.

But what if these attacks points were made irrelevant?

As in wireless communications, what if encryption technology could make it so that even if the data stream were to fall into the wrong hands it would be unreadable and therefore worthless?

Optical Encryption

Researchers at Ben-Gurion University recently unveiled a new optical stealth technology that utilizes multiple wavelengths to transmit data, making it extremely difficult to reconstruct any given stream without the proper decoding tools.

One way at accomplishes this is by utilizing weaker optical signals that cannot be detected under stronger noise patterns. By hiding the relevant data in this way, the system breaks down data coherence within the overall optical signal, and any attempt to reconstruct it will essentially destroy the data.

“Time is running out on security and privacy of digital encryption technology, which can be read offline if recorded and code-broken using intensive computing power,” said Professor Dan Sadot, director of the Optical Communications Research Laboratory at BGN.

“We’ve developed an end-to-end solution providing encryption, transmission, decryption, and detection optically instead of digitally.” (Read: Encryption Vs. Decryption: What's the Difference?)

Homomorphic Encryption

Elsewhere, Intel is working on a homomorphic encryption (HE) system that allows data receivers to utilize artificial intelligence and others tools to analyze data in its encrypted state. (Question: Is artificial intelligence a tool or a threat to cybersecurity?)

As Casimir Wierzynski, senior director in Intel’s AI Products Group, explained to Venture Beat, his should solve a key challenge with traditional encryption strategies surrounding the sharing of decryption keys, namely, making sure only authorized users have the keys.

Under an HE system, data does not need to be decrypted at all in order to be utilized, so the risk of loss is greatly reduced.

It also has the twin benefit of speeding up analytics projects by not subjecting large data sets to a time-consuming decryption process. Intel is currently working on solving the compute-intensive challenges that HE represents and developing the proper standards to support widespread use.

Quantum Key Distribution

Quantum technology is also poised to have a big impact on encryption. On the downside, of course, is the very real possibility that quantum engines will allow hackers to quickly render today’s encryption tools obsolete. (Also read: Is Security Research Actually Helping Hackers?)

On the upside, however, is the way new tools like Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) can afford greater protection for sensitive data, even when under fire from quantum-driven attacks.

Extreme Tech’s David Cardinal notes that while QKD is commercially available now, its cost and a lack of standards are impeding widespread use.

An even more intriguing possibility is applying quantum technology to encryption itself, which could conceivably generate encryption processes that are so complex that any attempt to break them will corrupt the data they are protecting.

Utilizing a quantum machine solely for this purpose would be prohibitively expensive, but once they are deployed for other functions, adding encryption to their workload should be a snap.

Encryption Chaos

But we might not have to wait for quantum technology to deliver on an unbreakable system. Researchers at the Center for Unconventional Processes of Sciences (CUP Sciences) say they have developed a protocol for standard CMOS chips that is unbreakable regardless of how much computing power you throw at it.

The system uses chaos theory and the second law of thermodynamics to create one-time keys that cannot be recreated, so even if someone has complete knowledge of both the encryption and the key they will only see white noise if they try to break it.

The group is currently working on refining and commercializing the technology.

Final Thoughts

We can expect new encryption technologies to enter technology markets at a steady clip as the digital economy unfolds.

We’ve already seen the damage that breaches cause, and as the world becomes even more dependent on data the need to keep it secure will only increase.

This alone should be incentive enough to fuel research into new forms of data protection, but there are also the commercial considerations. Providing the data services we all use has made billions for tech giants like Apple and Facebook.

Imagine the return on a technology that can take the fear out of entrusting our lives to the digital ecosystem.