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Experimental relativistic zero-knowledge proofs


Protecting secrets is a key challenge in our contemporary information-based era. In common situations, however, revealing secrets appears unavoidable; for instance, when identifying oneself in a bank to retrieve money. In turn, this may have highly undesirable consequences in the unlikely, yet not unrealistic, case where the bank’s security gets compromised. This naturally raises the question of whether disclosing secrets is fundamentally necessary for identifying oneself, or more generally for proving a statement to be correct. Developments in computer science provide an elegant solution via the concept of zero-knowledge proofs: a prover can convince a verifier of the validity of a certain statement without facilitating the elaboration of a proof at all1. In this work, we report the experimental realization of such a zero-knowledge protocol involving two separated verifier–prover pairs2. Security is enforced via the physical principle of special relativity3, and no computational assumption (such as the existence of one-way functions) is required. Our implementation exclusively relies on off-the-shelf equipment and works at both short (60 m) and long distances (≥400 m) in about one second. This demonstrates the practical potential of multi-prover zero-knowledge protocols, promising for identification tasks and blockchain applications such as cryptocurrencies or smart contracts4.

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Fig. 1: Relativistic zero-knowledge protocol for three-colourability on a short distance.

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All data supporting the findings of this article are available from the corresponding authors upon request.

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All code supporting the findings of this article are available from the corresponding authors upon request.


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Financial supports by the Swiss National Science Foundation (starting grant DIAQ, NCCR-QSIT) and the European project OpenQKD are gratefully acknowledged by N.B., S.D., R.H., W.X. and H.Z. P.A., C.C. and N.Y. are grateful to Québec’s FRQNT and Canada’s NSERC for making this work financially possible.

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Authors and Affiliations



P.A. and C.C. generated the graph used. N.B. and H.Z. supervised the research. C.C. and N.Y. came up with the protocol and C.C. was the theoretical leader. S.D. ensured the link between theory and experiment. R.H. was responsible for the experimental implementation, with support by S.D. and H.Z. W.X. contributed at early stage of the project. S.D. and C.C. wrote the initial draft, with the other authors providing editorial comments.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Claude Crépeau or Sébastien Designolle.

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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature thanks Thomas Vidick and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work. Peer reviewer reports are available.

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Fig. 1 Illustration of a round of the protocol.

The colours are consistent with those of Fig. 1a and depict a typical round where the verifiers ask the same edge to the provers, here \(\{1,2\}\), but where \(b\ne b\text{'}\) so that they check in the end that \({a}_{0}+a{\text{'}}_{0}\) \({a}_{1}+a{\text{'}}_{1}({\rm{m}}{\rm{o}}{\rm{d}}\,3)\). In this example we have \({{\ell }}_{1}^{0}=2,{{\ell }}_{1}^{1}=1,{{\ell }}_{2}^{0}=0,{{\ell }}_{2}^{1}=1\); note that, despite the adjacency of the vertices 1 and 2, the equality \({{\ell }}_{1}^{1}={{\ell }}_{2}^{1}\) is legal as the labellings \({{\ell }}_{k}^{b}\) do not need to be colourings.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Illustration of the hardware used in our two implementations.

a, b, The GPS version (a) and the triggered version (b). The essential difference is the method used for synchronizing the verifiers’ questions. In a the connection is wireless as it uses communication with satellites at the expense of a higher imprecision thus further verifier–prover pairs. In b the connection is physical and oriented from the first to the second verifier; the former sends a trigger through the fibre and delays their action by the time needed for this signal to reach the latter. With a better accuracy this second method allows for shorter distances between the verifier–prover pairs, here 60 m but arguably improvable.

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Alikhani, P., Brunner, N., Crépeau, C. et al. Experimental relativistic zero-knowledge proofs. Nature 599, 47–50 (2021).

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