A QUANTUM SUPERCOMPUTER capable of cracking virtually any cryptography reportedly is being designed for the US National Security Agency (NSA).
According to the Washington Post, citing the latest Snowden leak revelations, a "cryptologically useful quantum computer" is part of a research programme worth $79m entitled "Penetrating Hard Targets".
Although nothing in the Snowden papers suggests that the NSA funded programme is any closer than anyone else to making such powerful quantum computing a reality, the effort illustrates the lengths to which the agency is willing to go to obtain every last shred of information in the world.
The research is being carried out in a series of room sized Faraday cages, essentially large steel boxes designed to keep electronic and magnetic waves both in and out, with the hope of creating something capable of breaking Shor's Algorithm, the fabled universal decryption key, with enough stability to function.
Google and NASA are believed to co-own a quantum computing machine already, but even this is not believed to be powerful enough to perform the type of decryption that the NSA hopes to achieve.
The theory behind quantum computing is ridiculously complicated, but boiled down the explanation is that unlike a conventional chip, in which data exists as a series of zeroes and ones, quantum computing allows data to exist simultaneously in multiple states, meaning that many unnecessary intermediate calculations can be ignored and making resolution of a given problem many orders of magnitude faster.
If you are beginning to think that this is all beginning to sound a little bit like a Hollywood movie, you're right. But if that analogy scares you, think of it more like Emile Borel's Infinite Monkeys Hypothesis. If you give an infinite number of Alan Turings an infinite number of Enigma machines.... µ
Sign up for INQbot – a weekly roundup of the best from the INQ