WITHOUT EDWARD SNOWDEN,
WE WOULD STILL NOT KNOW
NSA developing computer to crack privacy codes: report
The spy agency is trying to develop a computer that could ultimately break most encryption programs, The Washington Post reported on Thursday.
The U.S. National Security Agency is trying to develop a computer that could ultimately break most encryption programs, whether they are used to protect other nations’ spying programs or consumers’ bank accounts, The Washington Post reported on Thursday.
The report, which the newspaper said was based on documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, comes amid continuing controversy over the spy agency’s program to collect the phone records Internet communications of private citizens.
In its report on Thursday, The Washington Post said that the NSA is trying to develop a so-called “quantum computer” that could be used to break encryption codes used to cloak sensitive information.
Such a computer, which would be able to perform several calculations at once instead of in a single stream, could take years to develop, the newspaper said. In addition to being able to break through the cloaks meant to protect private data, such a computer would have implications for such fields as medicine, the newspaper reported.
The research is part of a $79.7 million research program called “Penetrating Hard Targets,” the newspaper said. Other, non-governmental researchers are also trying to develop quantum computers, and it is not clear whether the NSA program lags the private efforts or is ahead of them.
Snowden, living in Russia with temporary asylum, last year leaked documents he collected while working for the NSA. The United States has charged him with espionage, and more charges could follow.
His disclosures have sparked a debate over how much leeway to give the U.S. government in gathering information to protect Americans from terrorism, and have prompted numerous lawsuits.
Last week, a federal judge ruled that the NSA’s collection of phone call records is lawful, while another judge earlier in December questioned the program’s constitutionality. The issue is now more likely to move before the U.S. Supreme Court.
On Thursday, the editorial board of the New York Times said that the U.S. government should grant Snowden clemency or a plea bargain, given the public value of revelations over the National Security Agency’s vast spying programs.
(Writing by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Dan Whitcomb, Bernard Orr)
The NSA Is Building a Quantum Computer? We Already Knew That
- By Robert McMillan
- 3:29 PM
Tabacco: it’s NOT what they already know; it’s what you and I know that counts!
The Internet is abuzz over revelations that the NSA is building its own quantum computer, a machine that could crack the computer encryption codes exponentially faster than any machine available today. But this should come as no surprise.
“It’s an interesting topic,” says Scott Aaronson, a theoretical computer scientist at MIT, who has followed quantum-computing efforts for a good eight years. “But as far as I can see, there is no big new revelation here.”
The NSA has openly sponsored quantum-computing research for close to a decade, helping to create something called the Joint Quantum Institute at the University of Maryland. And nearly five years ago, the head of the NSA, General Keith Alexander, predicted that the era of quantum computing was on the way — and that it would take the spy agency into new territory.
“I think we can see clearly out three to five years. Beyond that, things like a quantum computer start to bump up there,” Alexander told attendees at an Omaha Nebraska Cyberspace Symposium, saying that true quantum computing could be anywhere from three to 25 years away. “And when that hits, that’s a game changer. So things like that are there that we’re going to have to look at.”
The NSA documents leaked to the Washington Post by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden confirm the agency’s interest in quantum computing, though the Post reports that the agency is funding classified work at a University of Maryland laboratory called the Laboratory for Physical Sciences. We don’t know if the agency is any closer to actually completing a quantum computer than anyone else. In fact, the Post speculates that it’s probably not.
Christopher Monroe, a University of Maryland professor and a fellow at the Joint Quantum Institute, agrees there’s “nothing very interesting” in the Posts’ documents. “I saw this story and was amused that somebody at the Post was trying a little too hard to make a story out of nothing, probably because everybody is intrigued by this fellow Snowden,” he said in an email interview. The NSA’s involvement in quantum information science, he adds, “is well known.”
Like the Laboratory for Physical Sciences, the Joint Quantum Institute, or JQI, is a University of Maryland institution that receives NSA funding for quantum computing research, but the JQI does not do classified research.
Tabacco: That’s all the intelligent reporting I can give you at this time. But since they don’t know much more than that, how could I!
That means a quantum computer can perform far more calculations at one time than any machines that obeys classical physics — something that would be incredibly useful in cracking the encryption code that protect computer data stored and sent by governments, terrorists, and large corporations. But first you have to build one.
The NSA has been simultaneously open and vague about its quantum computing intentions. Last year, it published an explainer paper on quantum computing, talking about its potential to quickly solve mathematical problems that would be impossible on today’s digital computers. But that’s pretty much what you hear from other quantum researchers. What’s interesting about the Post’s documents is the extent to which they spell out the NSA’s ambitions to use quantum computing to crack the basic infrastructure of the Internet.
The NSA declined to comment for this story, but the according to a top secret Sept. 21, 2011 document, the “NSA is pursuing more than just basic, unclassified research.” It has also been secretly working on a quantum computer, which it sees as a first step toward building large scale quantum systems that could eventually “attack high-grade public key encryption systems,” the documents state.
The Post report names two NSA programs: The $80 million Penetrating Hard Targets, which includes the classified research at the Laboratory for Physical Sciences. There’s also the ominously named Owning the Net initiative, which is run out of the Laboratory for Telecommunications Sciences.
Because quantum computing promises the theoretical capacity to do math at levels that would be impossible using today’s digital computers, it’s an extremely exciting field of computer science. But it’s one that’s fraught with difficulties too.
Academics have been toying with quantum systems for a long time, but nobody is close to building the type of practical quantum computer envisioned by the NSA. Outside the agency, the furthest along is a Canadian company called D-Wave Systems. It built a machine that is now being tested by Google and NASA, but the jury is still out on exactly what type of work the D-Wave computer can actually do.
It’s also a delicate thing. Because any interference can render quantum calculations useless, it must be delicately calibrated — the computer shared by Google and NASA takes about a month to boot up — and any attempt to observe quantum calculations in process renders them useless.
According to Monroe, practical quantum computing remains in the distant future, despite the NSA’s funding. “[T]his area is still very speculative, and even optimists don’t believe that cracking codes this way will happen in the next 20 years,” he said. “That the NSA conducts and funds such research in the open tells us more than anything about how close they are.”
Many thanks to LinkTV’s ‘Journal’ for the
‘heads-up’ on this story!
Even Fox News is reporting on this!
Tabacco: I consider myself both a funnel and a filter. I funnel information, not readily available on the Mass Media, which is ignored and/or suppressed. I filter out the irrelevancies and trivialities to save both the time and effort of my Readers and bring consternation to the enemies of Truth & Fairness! When you read Tabacco, if you don’t learn something NEW, I’ve wasted your time.
Tabacco is not a blogger, who thinks; I am a Thinker, who blogs. Speaking Truth to Power!
In 1981′s ‘Body Heat’, Kathleen Turner said, “Knowledge is power”.
T.A.B.A.C.C.O. (Truth About Business And Congressional Crimes Organization) – Think Tank For Other 95% Of World: WTP = We The People