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NSA Working on Computer to Crack Almost Any Code

Washington Post says agency has $80M invested in futuristic quantum computing
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 2, 2014 6:02 PM CST
NSA Working on Computer to Crack Almost Any Code

The Washington Post is out with a doozy of a story for its latest Edward Snowden scoop. It says the NSA is trying 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 $80 million research program has a code name, of course: Penetrating Hard Targets. But how close the NSA actually is to building the thing is very much unclear; it would be a "revolutionary" leap forward in technology, and the story quotes experts speculating that such a breakthrough could be decades away.

The Post's explainer:

  • "The basic principle underlying quantum computing is known as 'quantum superposition,' the idea that an object simultaneously exists in all states. A classical computer uses binary bits, which are either zeroes or ones. A quantum computer uses quantum bits, or qubits, which are simultaneously zero and one."
A quantum computer, then, is a "holy grail" of tech innovation, a machine that would have "exponentially more power" to crack encryptions than ordinary computers, writes Adam Clarke Estes at Gizmodo. The thought of the NSA working on one for code-breaking purposes is "terrifying," he adds. "But it's hardly surprising." Such a machine would theoretically threaten "all security on the web," adds Gregory Ferenstein at TechCrunch. But for the time being, this is "pretty theoretical." Click to read the full story in the Post. Or to read about how the New York Times and the Guardian want the US to pardon Snowden or give him amnesty. (More NSA stories.)

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