A spherical representation of a qubit, the basic building block of quantum computers. / Glosser.ca/Wikipedia
The National Security Agency is working to build a supercomputer that could break almost all encryption worldwide, according to the latest revelation from documents provided by Edward Snowden.
But the spy agency is apparently far from achieving a breakthrough in creating a "cryptologically useful quantum computer," The Washington Post writes in a report Thursday. The effort is centered at a laboratory in College Park, Md.
Labs sponsored by the European Union and the Swiss government are also pursing this scientific holy grail.
"The E.U. and Switzerland have made significant advances over the last decade and have caught up to the U.S. in quantum computing technology," Seth Lloyd, professor of quantum mechanical engineering at MIT, told the Post.
If achieved, such a computer could unlock the encryption that protects data held by and transactions with banks, credit card companies, retailers, brokerages, governments and health care providers.
Here's the Post's explanation of quantum computing:
While a classical computer, however fast, must do one calculation at a time, a quantum computer can sometimes avoid having to make calculations that are unnecessary to solving a problem. That allows it to home in on the correct answer much more quickly and efficiently.
Quantum computing is so difficult to attain because of the fragile nature of such computers. In theory, the building blocks of such a computer might include individual atoms, photons or electrons. To maintain the quantum nature of the computer, these particles would need to be carefully isolated from their external environments.
One file file provided by former NSA contractor Snowden shows that the agency expected to have created some basic building blocks - called quibits - by the end of September. The agency reported achieving "dynamical decoupling and complete quantum control on two semiconductor qubits."
But to universally break cryptography, a supercomputer would need hundreds or thousands of quibits.
"That's a great step, but it's a pretty small step on the road to building a large-scale quantum computer," Lloyd of MIT told the Post.
Two other newspapers that have published findings based on thousands of classified documents - the New York Times and Guardian - editorialized Wednesday that Snowden is a whistle-blower who should be granted clemency rather then be prosecuted for leaking the files. He has been living in Russia, which granted him temporary asylum after he fled Hawaii and later Hong Kong.
Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com
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