What just happened? The US Department of Energy this week laid out its blueprint for what it is calling the Quantum Internet, a second Internet that would run parallel to the digital Internet and offer unprecedented levels of security.

The traditional Internet, as The Wall Street Journal points out, works by encoding data into photons of light and sending it over long distances along fiber-optic cables or wirelessly via satellites. The issue, as it relates to security, is that these communications can be intercepted along the way, resulting in a hacker and the intended target receiving the same data.

On the Quantum Internet, the photons used to store a message's contents would be "entangled," a physical phenomenon in which a pair or group of particles are mysteriously linked despite being separated by vast distances.

Critically, if these particles are tinkered with in any way during transmission, including if intercepted by a hacker, the entanglement would be broken and the message would appear to the hacker and the recipient as scrambled.

"A quantum network, because of physics, is by definition completely secure," said Paul Dabbar, the Energy Department's Under Secretary for Science.

Researchers and scientists have only scratched the surface on their understanding of quantum entanglement although in order to send the entangled photons across long distances, they're experimenting with quantum repeaters at regular intervals along the route to prevent signal drop.

David Awschalom, a physicist at the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory, said the repeaters are in their early stages of development but look promising thus far.

A nationwide Quantum Internet could be fully functional within about a decade.

Masthead credit: Dmitriy Rybin