BB84 is a quantum key distribution scheme developed by Charles Bennett and Gilles Brassard in 1984. It is the first quantum cryptography protocol. The protocol is provably secure, relying on the quantum property that information gain is only possible at the expense of disturbing the signal if the two states we are trying to distinguish are not orthogonal (see no cloning theorem). It is usually explained as a method of securely communicating a private key from one party to another for use in one-time pad encryption.
and are the bits of and , respectively. Together, give us an index into the following four qubit states:
Note that the bit is what decides which basis is encoded in (either in the computational basis or the Hadamard basis). The qubits are now in states which are not mutually orthogonal, and thus it is impossible to distinguish all of them with certainty without knowing .
Alice sends over a public quantum channel to Bob. Bob receives a state , where represents the effects of noise in the channel as well as eavesdropping by a third party we'll call Eve. After Bob receives the string of qubits, all three parties, namely Alice, Bob and Eve, have their own states. However, since only Alice knows , it makes it virtually impossible for either Bob or Eve to distinguish the states of the qubits. Also, after Bob has received the qubits, we know that Eve cannot be in possession of a copy of the qubits sent to Bob, by the no cloning theorem, unless she has made measurements. Her measurements, however, risk disturbing a particular qubit with probability ½ if she guesses the wrong basis.
Bob proceeds to generate a string of random bits of the same length as , and then measures the string he has received from Alice, . At this point, Bob announces publicly that he has received Alice's transmission. Alice then knows she can now safely announce . Bob communicates over a public channel with Alice to determine which and are not equal. Both Alice and Bob now discard the qubits in and where and do not match.
From the remaining bits where both Alice and Bob measured in the same basis, Alice randomly chooses bits and discloses her choices over the public channel. Both Alice and Bob announce these bits publicly and run a check to see if more than a certain number of them agree. If this check passes, Alice and Bob proceed to use privacy amplification and information reconciliation techniques to create some number of shared secret keys. Otherwise, they cancel and start over.
- Quantum Computing and Quantum Information, Michael Nielsen and Isaac Chuang
- C. H. Bennett and G. Brassard, “Quantum Cryptography: Public key distribution and coin tossing”, in Proceedings of the IEEE International Conference on Computers, Systems, and Signal Processing, Bangalore, p. 175 (1984) 
- Branciard, Cyril; Gisin, Nicolas; Kraus, Barbara; Scarani, Valerio (2005). "Security of two quantum cryptography protocols using the same four qubit states". Physical Review A 72 (3). arXiv:quant-ph/0505035. doi:10.1103/PhysRevA.72.032301.