NSA Trying To Build A Quantum Computer To Crack Lots Of Encryption, But Not Having Much Luck Yet

from the so,-like-everyone-else,-then dept

The latest Washington Post article concerning documents revealed by Ed Snowden doesn't really reveal all that much, other than the unsurprising news that the NSA is trying to build a quantum computer that could help it break lots of forms of encryption (though, not all). But, the key point here is that the NSA really doesn't seem to have gotten any further than anyone else in this endeavor.
Physicists and computer scientists have long speculated whether the NSA’s efforts are more advanced than those of the best civilian labs. Although the full extent of the agency’s research remains unknown, the documents provided by Snowden suggest that the NSA is no closer to success than others in the scientific community.

“It seems improbable that the NSA could be that far ahead of the open world without anybody knowing it,” said Scott Aaronson, an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT.

The NSA appears to regard itself as running neck and neck with quantum computing labs sponsored by the European Union and the Swiss government, with steady progress but little prospect of an immediate breakthrough.

“The geographic scope has narrowed from a global effort to a discrete focus on the European Union and Switzerland,” one NSA document states.
Of the various leaks so far, this one definitely falls into the category of... not that big of a deal. You'd pretty much expect the NSA to be working on a project like this, and while it may employ lots of very smart folks, it would be pretty difficult for the NSA to be particularly far ahead of anyone else on a big challenge like this one. Yes, one day there will be quantum computers, and that will be a concern for certain forms of encryption. So it's certainly worth contemplating what to do when that happens, but, for now, it doesn't appear the NSA has some special sauce there, even if its big malware program is called QUANTUM.


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    S. T. Stone, Jan 3rd, 2014 @ 4:20am

    I’d make a ‘Quantum of Solace’ joke here, but for the life of me, I can’t think of a way to make fun of both the NSA and that ridiculous James Bond movie at the same time.

    Guess I’ll have to wait until the NSA moves on to SKYFALL.

     

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    Jay (profile), Jan 3rd, 2014 @ 4:48am

    Cave Johnson would be proud

    Hi folks,

    Cave Johnson here. We got a few bean counters out back that we "recruited" to test out our new fancy schmancy thingamabobber. It's very expensive and does exactly what we needed for a few people in even nicer suits.

    Now yes, we've conquered the moon and I know that the science experiments haven't gone according to plan, but this is research!

    And we finally got the control group thing fixed (or at least hiding from OSHA) so we're going to throw MORE science at the wall to see what sticks.

    And that's where you come in folks. This large computer is what the bean counters tell me is the future. And we're gonna test it. Not all at once. Just a few tests to make sure it works. I'm sure you'll love it.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jan 3rd, 2014 @ 8:59am

      Re: Cave Johnson would be proud

      Does it go "Bing!"?

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Jan 3rd, 2014 @ 12:44pm

      Re: Cave Johnson would be proud

      I got news for you buddy. Your large computer of the future will be obsolete tomorrow.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Jan 6th, 2014 @ 11:26am

      Re: Cave Johnson would be proud

      New plan for fighting terrorism:
      BURN THEIR HOUSES DOWN. WITH THE LEMONS. DEPLOY COMBUSTIBLE LEMONS THAT BURN THE TERRORISTS' HOUSES DOWN!

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 3rd, 2014 @ 6:03am

    It's a safe assumption that properly implemented OneTimePad encryption would remain safe from quantum computing.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jan 3rd, 2014 @ 7:29am

      Re:

      OTP is a *theoretical* device; in practice it is totally useless as, in place of one secret message of length N, you have *two* secret messages of length N, one being original plaintext, the other being the key.

      OTP has a host of other, very unpleasant properties, like allowing the attacker to manipulate the encrypted message without needing to know the key at all.

      P.S. Quite a few encryption algorithms are basically fancy algorithms to generate the arbitrary length "key" for OTP from something manageable.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 3rd, 2014 @ 6:14am

    so, even after getting caught and condemned for breaking a lot of encryption that everyone, everywhere relies on, the NSA are still at it! this time, wasting even more tax payers money to try to achieve something that is going to fuck things up even more than they have managed to so far! it obviously still hasn't sunk in that if they manage to build such a machine, so will others. if they manage to screw things up, by breaking the code that is used by the Internet, so will others. the extent of that breaking could go as far as to wipe out the bank balances of innumerable businesses and maybe even a country!

    would it not be ironic, be poetic justice, if the country concerned happened to turn out to be the USA? i wonder what bullshit excuses would be used by the NSA to try to pull themselves out of the mire then? i wonder what bullshit excuses the top man would use to explain to all the people how 'i didn't know what my security agency was up to, so please dont blame me! if we all pull together, i am sure we can overcome this disaster! (but let all of us powerful and wealthy people get our stuff back first, otherwise we wont be able to keep track of what you other tossers are doing and how much you've managed to learn about what we screwed up!'

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jan 3rd, 2014 @ 9:04am

      Re:

      Except what you are missing is that this also pushes advancements in other areas. As they work to build computers to break the current encryption, they create the necessity for others to improve encryption (or even invent other techniques not yet thought of to secure data) that cannot be broken by such a computer. It's a never ending cycle.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Jan 3rd, 2014 @ 4:29pm

      Re:

      Nah, they will just create a law that makes it illegal to poses the thing they themselves created, while forgetting to prosecute themselves, AAAAAND, mind you, probably still use the thing they created and have themselves deemed illegal.......but apparently, not them........which begs the question, is the act itself illegal, and is its severity on scale akin more to jay walking or perhaps murder, the LITERAL ACT, or is the illegality simply not being authorised to use a thing, well if thats the case, who gives them authority to give themselves authority to use a thing while using the threat and intimidation of what we call government to deny others the same access to a thing, if a thing should not be used, then NOBODY should have the "authority"........i sure as hell dont, sure as hell dont want my neighbour to either, and i most certainly DONT believe that a government ENTITY should have higher authority then me or my neighbours "authority" on our own natural rights, but then we come to the cusp of our fears, do we have a representative government, or an authorative one, one thats on a crossroads, reading the post directions, and wondering, should we spend our vacation in tyranny town this year, hunny?

       

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    crade (profile), Jan 3rd, 2014 @ 7:53am

    Holy crap, they are actually doing something? Like.. themselves?! Like work? Are we sure we aren't talking about them watching Microsoft or someone work on a quantum computer?

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Jan 3rd, 2014 @ 9:11am

    Cuts both ways

    Aside from the AC's correct comment above that quantum computing is of no help cracking properly produced one-time pads (which are mathematically uncrackable), there's also the fact that this quantum business cuts both ways. The technologies involved can produce both a super-code-cracker and super-code-makers. The eternal arms race between code makers and code breakers simply continues apace.

     

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    mattshow (profile), Jan 3rd, 2014 @ 9:41am

    I remember when I was studying quantum computation at university a decade ago, the most advanced quantum computer that actually existed at the time was able to factor 15 into it's prime factors. According to Wikipedia, the current record is 21. That is a long, long way from posing a threat to the encryption currently used on the web.

    I think we have a ways to go before quantum computers are really useful to the NSA.

     

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    Anonymoose, Jan 3rd, 2014 @ 12:14pm

    That's cute...

    "Trying to build..."
    Um. yeah. Advertising the lack of a capability usually means that it was on hand 20 years ago.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jan 3rd, 2014 @ 5:42pm

      Re: That's cute...

      If they had that so far back why sabotage cryptography if it could just cut through like the cliche hot knife through butter?

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 3rd, 2014 @ 3:00pm

    There's no "competition" with the civilian labs, unless by competition you mean your opponent has the ability to look over your shoulder and see your cards at will.

     

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    Anonymous, Jan 3rd, 2014 @ 3:07pm

    "It seems improbable...". Improbable doesn't mean impossible, and things are not always as they seem.

     

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    GEMont, Jan 6th, 2014 @ 10:58am

    Neck and neck.....

    "The NSA appears to regard itself as running neck and neck with quantum computing labs sponsored by the European Union and the Swiss government, with steady progress but little prospect of an immediate breakthrough."

    Well duh!

    Of course they're running neck and neck with the EU and Swiss on quantum computers - and on everything else the EU and Swiss research labs are working on.

    After all, the US is getting all their research data by tapping the computers of those EU and Swiss labs. As soon as either one gets a breakthrough, the US will own it five minutes later.

    Do you have any idea of how much money the boys are saving by simply stealing the tech they need from foreign sources, completely eliminating the necessity of hundreds of US R&D labs.

    They will never stop willingly and they will never admit to any wrongdoing.

    They will have to be taken down from the outside forcefully and even then, they will continue on under a different agency name and mandate because there are billions of greenbacks to be made here and an endless stream of carreer politicians ready to do whatever it takes to be able to utilize such a system for personal gain.

    Afraid the USA will need to hit flat bottom before you can be rid of this infection.

     

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      The Wanderer (profile), Jan 18th, 2014 @ 8:16am

      Re: Neck and neck.....

      Of course they're running neck and neck with the EU and Swiss on quantum computers - and on everything else the EU and Swiss research labs are working on.

      After all, the US is getting all their research data by tapping the computers of those EU and Swiss labs. As soon as either one gets a breakthrough, the US will own it five minutes later.

      The first thing this reminds me of is the Great Library from the Civilization games...

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 6th, 2014 @ 11:24am

    Probably what will be the greatest breakthrough in computers since the computer's first use will be to spy on innocent people. Great job, NSA.

     

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