Quantum espionage

February 3, 2014

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Will a future NSA quantum computer really be capable of cracking nearly every kind of encryption, as reported in The Washington Post (based on documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden)?

Not likely, say some experts. “Even if a quantum code cracker can be built, it might be defeated by encryption algorithms already in the works — or by another technology, called quantum key distribution, that relies on quantum mechanics itself for security, says Science Magazine staff writer Adrian Cho.

The latest leaked Snowden documents, however, also reveal that the NSA is attempting to exploit practical loops in QKD under a program known as “Owning the Net,” according to an article by Jon Cartwright in Physics World Feb. 2014 (the article will be freely available on Feb. 6).

“It seems improbable that the NSA could be that far ahead of the open world without anybody knowing it,” says Scott Aaronson, a theoretical computer scientist at MIT, according to the same Washington Post article.

And new public key algorithms, like “lattice methods” (under development at Georgia Tech), might also fend off a quantum computer, Cho notes.