Report: NSA working on code-cracking supercomputer

The National Security Agency (NSA) is using tens of millions of dollars to develop a lightening-quick computer capable of cracking nearly every type of code, according to a report based on documents from former agency contractor Edward Snowden.

The quantum computer is part of the agency’s massive Penetrating Hard Targets project, based at a lab in College Park, Md., The Washington Post reported on Thursday.

The new documents show that the NSA is conducting “basic research in quantum physics and architecture/engineering studies to determine if, and how, a cryptologically useful quantum computer can be built.” That effort is reportedly part of a $79.7 million research effort.

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The quantum computing technology could be used to crack nearly any business or government encryption network. Scientists have also sought to develop a computer with similar powers, which could revolutionize their research.

Quantum computing has yet to be fully developed for the purposes of breaking codes, and is based on complex quantum physics.

Unlike traditional computers, which use bits of information with a value of either one or zero, quantum computing uses quantum bits, called qubits, which can have a value of both numbers at the same time. As qubits add up, they could theoretically dramatically increase the computer’s power.

That high-speed power could be used to unscramble even the strongest encryption tools currently in use, at a rate much faster than classical computers are capable. 

Even the NSA is still early in the development. By the end of September, the agency has a goal of demonstrating “dynamical decoupling and complete quantum control on two semiconductor qubits,” it said in the documents. “This will enable initial scaling towards large systems in related and follow-on efforts.”

An NSA spokeswoman declined to comment on the disclosure.

Last year, Google and NASA jointly purchased a quantum computer developed by the Canadian company D-Wave. Aerospace giant Lockheed Martin bought the first commercially available quantum computer back in 2011.