The NSA is building a computer that uses quantum mechanics, giving it such vast computer power that it could break even the strongest encryption methods available. This secret program could overpower tools used by banks, the military, and any service that aims to keep data private and secure.
According to the Washington Post, this information has come from documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden last year. The documents refer to a program called “Penetrating Hard Targets” – an $80-million research program to create “a cryptographically useful quantum computer” that are housed in shielded rooms known as Faraday cages. These rooms are designed to protect against electromagnetic energy that can interfere with the delicate experiments.
The NSA is already under fire for previous revelations regarding the collection and storage of massive amounts of user data. In July 2013, Lavabit, an encrypted email service, shut down operations in response to a search warrant from the United States government ordering them to turn over their SSL private keys. Lavabit’s founder claims other secure mail providers who had plans to shut down received court orders forcing them to stay open.
With the power of a quantum computer, court orders and search warrants for online businesses could become a thing of the past. Any system using public-key encryption would be breakable by a quantum computer. Private-key cryptography, which involves a shared secret key between two or more parties, is more difficult to break with a quantum computer.
A company in Canada called D-Wave Systems is already be producing small quantum computers. In June 2013, they installed a D-Wave Two at the Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab created by NASA, Google, and USRA, and have headquarters in Vancouver, B.C.