NSA making code-breaking quantum computer


An American newspaper Friday reported the US National Security Agency is working to build a “quantum computer” that could break nearly every kind of encryption used to protect banking, medical, business and government records around the world.
The Washington Post, quoting form documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, said effort to build “a cryptologically useful quantum computer” — a machine exponentially faster than classical computers — is part of a $79.7 million research program titled “Penetrating Hard Targets.”
The development of a quantum computer has long been a goal of many in the scientific community, with revolutionary implications for fields such as medicine as well as for the NSA’s code-breaking mission.
“With such technology, all current forms of public key encryption would be broken, including those used on many secure websites as well as the type used to protect state secrets,” the Post reported.
The NSA declined to comment for the report.
The Post says documents indicate that the agency carries out some of its research in large, shielded rooms known as Faraday Cages, which are designed to prevent electromagnetic energy from coming in or out. Those, according to one brief description, are required “to keep delicate quantum computing experiments running.”
The NSA contractor Snowden, whose revelations have led to an uproar over the extent and wide scope of intelligence gathering efforts, faces felony charges in the United States, and is currently living in temporary asylum in Russia.
The Post report also explained the difference between a quantum computer and a classical computer.
“A working quantum computer would open the door to easily breaking the strongest encryption tools in use today, including a standard known as RSA, named for the initials of its creators. RSA scrambles communications, making them unreadable to anyone but the intended recipient, without requiring the use of a shared password. It is commonly used in Web-browsers to secure financial transactions and in encrypted e-mails. The RSA is used because of the difficulty of factoring the product of two large prime numbers. Breaking the encryption involves finding those two numbers. This cannot be done in a reasonable amount of time on a classical computer,” read the newspaper.
“In 2009, computer scientists using classical methods were able to discover the primes within a 768-bit number, but it took almost two years and hundreds of computers to factor it. The scientists estimated that it would take 1,000 times longer to break a 1,024-bit encryption key, which is commonly used for online transactions,” it added.
“A large-scale quantum computer, however, could theoretically break a 1,024-bit encryption much faster. Some leading Internet companies are moving to 2,048-bit keys, but even those are thought to be vulnerable to rapid decryption with a quantum computer,” said the Washington Post.


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