NSA looks to crack all encryption with quantum computer, report says
Spy agency said to be developing a cryptographically useful quantum computer
IDG News Service - The U.S. National Security Agency is attempting to build a new breed of supercomputer that theoretically could make short work of cracking most keys used for encrypted communications.
The project to build "a cryptographically useful quantum computer" is part of an $80 million research project called "Penetrating Hard Targets" that is taking place at a campus in College Park, Maryland, according to The Washington Post. The newspaper quoted documents it said were provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
Since the early days of encryption, an important defense in the security of each system has been the amount of time it would take to attack and discover the encryption key. The longer the time required, the greater the motivation and financial investment needed to discover the key.
As computers have gotten more powerful, longer encryption keys that are harder to crack have been employed, so today keys of 256 bits or more are common, especially for sensitive information. Even with a powerful supercomputer, experts generally agree it would take many years to crack a single key of 256 bits or more.
Quantum computing turns all of that around.
Unlike traditional computing, which relies on single bits of information that represent either one or zero, a quantum computer employs quantum bits that hold the value of one and zero at the same time.
If you're wondering how that's possible, you're not alone. Even the world's leading quantum computing experts don't totally understand how it works, but they are in agreement about what it means for encryption keys.
Because each quantum bit holds two values at the same time, a string of quantum bits can represent all numbers simultaneously. That means a future quantum computer could do many calculations in a single step, not one by one as today's computers do. So, cracking an encryption key could become child's play.
At least, that's the theory.
Scientists are yet to get reliably operating quantum computers capable of doing complex mathematical calculations, but it appears the NSA program is aimed at doing just that.
Many universities and research labs around the world are investing millions of dollars in programs to make reliable quantum computers, and the technology is improving every year, but to date no one has reported a breakthrough that would make today's encryption keys unsafe.
However, the prospect of a future quantum computer might be enough to worry some people today, if the data being encrypted is something that will still have value in a few years or a few decades.
This pilot fish is a contractor at a military base, working on some very cool fire-control systems for tanks. But when he spots something obviously wrong during a live-fire test, he can't get the firing-range commander's attention.
- IT Certification Study Tips
- Register for this Computerworld Insider Study Tip guide and gain access to hundreds of premium content articles, cheat sheets, product reviews and more.
- Reduce federal infrastructure risk with compliance management and situational awareness
- IBM continuous monitoring and management solutions deliver real-time situational awareness to help federal agencies understand vulnerabilities, and protect the infrastructure.
- Mission Critical: Managing Mobile Applications & Content
- Smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices have become embedded in enterprise processes, thanks to the consumerization of IT and a new generation of...
- Securing Mobility, From Device to Network
- At one time, the process of managing and securing mobile devices and applications was fairly straightforward. Most organizations worried about one application (email)...
- Planning for Mobile Success
- Many organizations are seeing clear and quantifiable benefits from the deployment of mobile technologies that provide access to data and applications any time,...
- The Challenges and Opportunities of Mobile Application Development
- Nearly all business users now demand mobile devices--their own or company-owned--along with anywhere access to corporate applications and data. What turns mobile devices... All Government IT White Papers
- Keep Servers Up and Running and Attackers in the Dark An SSL/TLS handshake requires at least 10 times more processing power on a server than on the client. SSL renegotiation attacks can readily...
- On Demand: Mastering the Art of Mobile Content Management Mobile device usage in the enterprise has skyrocketed, and it continues to escalate. IT must answer to users who demand access to their...
- DevOps with PureApplication System: Reduce cost and speed delivery with an integrated IBM Cloud solution Join this webcast to hear what ING Netherlands has been able to achieve while deploying DevOps tools from IBM Rational. An ING executive...
- NSS Labs & Cisco Present: Evaluating Leading Breach Detection Systems Today's constantly evolving advanced malware and APTs can evade point-in-time defenses to penetrate networks. Security professionals must evolve their strategy in lockstep to...
- Will the Real Endpoint Threat Detection and Response Please Stand Up? This webinar explores new technologies & process for protecting endpoints from advanced attackers as well as the innovations that are pushing the envelope...
- All Government IT Webcasts