Optical communication has an increasing need for security in public transmission scenarios. Here, we present a protocol for cryptographic key distribution over a public network via a photon-counting compressive imaging system with watermarking, which utilizes a watermarking technique to distribute secure keys, and uses reconstructed images for simultaneous identity authentication and tampering identification. The watermark is embedded in the rearranged compressed measurements of the object, and then the signal is transmitted through a public network. At the receiving terminal, legitimate users can easily extract the watermark as the cryptographic key by using initial keys and the variance characteristic of random measurements. Artificial tampering and attacks can be detected by accurately retrieved images. The realization of this protocol is a step forward toward practical applications, and will be beneficial for the broader fields of optical security in many ways.
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