The National Security Agency is reportedly racing to build a computer that will be able to break almost every kind of encryption used to protect medical, banking, business and government records around the world.
According to documents provided by NSA whistle blower Edward Snowden, a $79.7 million research program titled “Penetrating Hard Targets” includes a project to build a “cryptologically useful quantum computer” – a machine considerably faster than classic computers, The Washington Post reported Thursday
The implications of the NSA building a quantum computer are far reaching. Such a machine would open the door to cracking the strongest encryption tools in use today, including a standard known as RSA that scrambles communications and make them impossible to read for anyone except the intended recipient. RSA is commonly used in Web browsers for encrypted emails and secure financial transactions.
The development of such a machine has long been a goal of many in the scientific community, and would have revolutionary implications for fields like medicine as well as for the NSA’s code-breaking mission.
The NSA reportedly sees itself as in a race with European Union and Swiss sponsored quantum computing labs.
“The geographic scope has narrowed from a global effort to a discrete focus on the European Union and Switzerland,” one NSA document says, according to the Washington Post.
The Snowden documents also indicate that the NSA has been carrying out a part of its research in large shielded rooms designed to prevent electromagnetic energy from leaking. The rooms are required in order to keep quantum computing experiments running.