U.S. NSA seeks to build quantum computer to crack most types of encryption

“In room-size metal boxes ­secure against electromagnetic leaks, the National Security Agency is racing to build a computer that could break nearly every kind of encryption used to protect banking, medical, business and government records around the world,” Steven Rich and Barton Gellman report for The Washington Post. “According to documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the 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.'”

MacDailyNews Take: Sounds like a porn title.

“Much of the work is hosted under classified contracts at a laboratory in College Park, Md.,” Rich and Gellman report. “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 Web sites as well as the type used to protect state secrets.”

“Although the full extent of the agency’s research remains unknown, the documents provided by Snowden suggest that the NSA is no closer to success than others in the scientific community,” Rich and Gellman report. “‘It seems improbable that the NSA could be that far ahead of the open world without anybody knowing it,’ said Scott Aaronson, an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: But, Scott, the government is so good with tech projects

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  1. I would have thought that the logical result of this would be to drive users to adopt tougher forms of encryption.

    Building a super-computer is quite a challenge, but toughening up encryption techniques is much easier to do. Building a computer to cope with tougher levels of encryption will be even more challenging than building one to crack existing encryption methods.

    If the NSA only concerned itself with the activities of people who could reasonably be described as suspects, there wouldn’t be so much of a problem, but now it has been discovered that the NSA can eavesdrop on virtually everybody and every company in the US and abroad, they have been seen to overstep the mark by a huge margin and have triggered consequences which will make their efforts more difficult in the future.

    1. “If the NSA only concerned itself with the activities of people who could reasonably be described as suspects” This would involve profiling and we all know how that gets shot down, although if any group could get away with it it would be the NSA.

    2. Spy agencies (regardless of which country) have ALWAYS had the ability to spy on those they suspected were a threat. Did anyone really think that they would stick to technologies and techniques of the 1940s?

      It cracks me up when I hear people calling for “more transparency” in intelligence agencies activities. Seriously? It’s not like you can gather all your loyal countrymen around a table, and privately brief them on what you are doing, and how you are doing it. If you make it public, your enemies know as well. Then you can’t very well do your job. If your enemies know HOW you are keeping tabs on them, they can figure out how to hide their deeds from you, or feed you misleading information.

      The bottom line is that the NSA is tasked with tracking down foreign threats, and their connections. If you actually read the leaked documents, you’ll see that they are prohibited from focusing on US citizens.

      The Internet echo-chamber has amplified this into something far worse than it actually is.

      1. No, the bottom line is that the NSA has been unconstitutionally spying on Americans and they have been caught lying to us. We need transparency on the domestic spying; not a secret court that rubber stamps every request to violate our Constitutional rights.

        1. They have been monitoring communications between the US and other counties. They’ve been doing that for a very long time. That’s not news, nor did they ever say they weren’t doing that They have the ABILITY to monitor communications of US citizens, but they have regulations in place (as specified in the leaked documents) that prohibit this. They know that it’s possible that during their data mining for connections between known threats and new, unknown threats, it’s very possible they will end up collecting against a US citizen. In the event they realize they are doing that, they have to stop immediately, report it, and move on.

          They aren’t permitted to spy on US citizens. That’s the FBI’s job. 😉

  2. Like commercial fusion power, I’m sure quantum computing is just around the corner, they’re “very close” etc. Only years later when flaws in theory are finally admitted do the researchers realize they were pursuing undomesticated aquatic fowl. (However, no such admission will be made because only our overlords will be allowed to own computers. No one else need know. Ignorance is strength.)

  3. It’s lazy to call quantum computers “faster” than conventional computers. Conventional computers are much faster by any objective measure and will remain faster because they keep doubling in speed throughout our lifetimes. Quantum computers just work in a completely different way that allows it to accomplish certain tasks much quicker than a conventional computer. You can’t just throw ordinary software on a quantum computer and expect it to run exponentially faster. To be any faster, the programming logic has to be designed to take advantage of information that is not in in a definitive state like 1 or 0, but rather in a state of quantum superposition that may eventually collapse to a definitive state if it is to be read by in an algorithm.

  4. Just want to point out, this isn’t news. Government spies wanting to break AES encryption has been the primary motivation for funding research in quantum computer science for at least the last 10 years, probably much longer.

  5. It is like any weapons race, one does not want to be on the side that doesn’t have the capability. The US wasted millions on ESP research because we thought the Soviets might be doing it (and I guess they were).

  6. Most of the technological advancements throughout history have been brought about for military/state purposes. The computer is here today because of that. Nation states are the only ones with pockets big enough to throw around on for such things.
    Quantum computers, like computers today will have a lot to offer humanity. The weakest link to making sure we protect our liberties because of technological advancements are the voters. The voters brought in all of politicians who voted for the Patriot Act for example.

    1. No, the weakest link is not the voters, who really have a very limited say in who governs. The weakest link is the two (viable) party system which limits voting to choosing between very few preselected candidates makes cronyism so effective.

      If parties had term limits, or seat share limits, or other kinds of checks-and-balances, then then elections would have to involve a higher diversity of candidates and corruption could not be so centralized.

      Currently, no matter how badly party A screws up, they only have to wait for party B to screw up to get right back into office. Imagine if duopolies were encouraged in the marketplace – the results would be many markets with corporations that barely listened to their customers.

      The incentive to improve is low because improvement is hard. The incentive to undermine the other party high, as this is always easier. Without fear of true failure organizations evolve to to take the easy corrupt strategy.

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