If the NSA is successful, data will never be safe from surveillance
January 2, 2014
According to a story published today by the Washington Post, documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden reveal an effort by the NSA to build “a cryptologically useful quantum computer” capable of breaking any kind of encryption used to protect banking, medical, business and government records. The research is part of $79.7 million classified program paid for by the American tax payer.
Quantum computers use quantum-mechanical phenomena, or physical phenomena occurring on a microscopic scale, to perform operations on data. The experimental super computers are capable of solving problems more rapidly than traditional computers and are therefore more suited to breaking encryption codes.
In order to keep the research secret, the NSA is working in Faraday cages, shielded rooms designed to prevent electromagnetic energy from going in or out and thus “keep delicate quantum computing experiments running,” according to the documents provided by Snowden.
A quantum computer, long the dream of computer scientists around the world, would provide solutions in a number of fields, including science and medicine. The NSA, however, isn’t interested in developing new medical or scientific breakthroughs, but rather ensuring that no network or computer file will be safe from the prying eyes of the government and its intelligence agencies.
“Physicists and computer scientists have long speculated whether the NSA’s efforts are more advanced than those of the best civilian labs,” the Post reports. “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.”
It is believed that the agency is on par with quantum computing labs sponsored by the European Union and the Swiss government. “The E.U. and Switzerland have made significant advances over the last decade and have caught up to the U.S. in quantum computing technology,” Seth Lloyd, professor of quantum mechanical engineering at MIT, told the newspaper.