U.S. News


NSA Researching Code-Breaking Quantum Computer: Report

The NSA is pouring time, energy and nearly $80 million into investigating quantum computers as possible code breakers.
Posted at 3:37 PM, Jan 03, 2014

Newly leaked documents show the National Security Agency is interested in a new breed of supercomputer.

A report in TheWashington Post indicates the NSA is researching quantum computers as possible tools in its intelligence-gathering arsenal. The objective: crack encryption schemes faster than ever.

Right now, even the fastest computers can be slow to break down the security walls encryption puts up around data.

Since they're built on the binary language of ones and zeros, they have to do all their computing in sequence. (Via YouTube / Veritasium)

Quantum computers can theoretically get around this bottleneck because their bits can be simultaneously one and zero. These "qubits," as they're called, could yield exponentially faster code breaking. (Via KPNX)

If only such machines existed. The NSA isn't trying to build one — at least not yet.

Instead, it's directing its people to "conduct basic research in quantum physics … to determine if, and how, a cryptographically useful quantum computer can be built." (Via The Verge)

The documents suggest the NSA is no closer to a workable code-breaking quantum computer than most civilian scientists and researchers are, despite having sunk nearly $80 million into the initiative.

Techdirt says, "While it may employ lots of very smart folks, it would be pretty difficult for the NSA to be particularly far ahead of anyone else on a big challenge like this one."  

MIT researchers told The Washington Post a quantum computer robust enough to handle the kind of code breaking the NSA wants is five years away, at a minimum.