The National Security Agency is building "a cryptologically useful quantum computer” designed to break nearly every kind of encryption, The Washington Post reported Thursday. According to the report, which cites leaked documents provided by Edward Snowden, the effort is a part of a $79.7 million research program code named Penetrating Hard Targets.
A quantum computer is a machine that is much faster than traditional computers. While a traditional computer works with binary bits, either zeros or ones, a quantum computer works with quantum bits or qubits, which are simultaneously zero and one.
Such a computer can decide to avoid calculations that are unnecessary to solving a problem. This gives quantum computer the ability to quickly solve very difficult problems like breaking a complex encryption.
The report also says that the intelligence agency carries out its quantum computing research activities in large, shielded rooms (known as Faraday cages) that are designed in such a way that prevents electromagnetic energy from coming in or out.
Although the documents indicate that the NSA is nowhere close to creating a quantum computer, if this does happen, it would be easy for the agency to break almost all forms of encryption that are currently being used to protect banking, medical, business, and government records all around the world.
The NSA declined to comment on the report.