NSA eyes encryption-breaking 'quantum' machine

Jan 03, 2014
The shadow of US Army General Keith Alexander, commander of US Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency (NSA), is seen as he delivers keynote remarks September 25, 2013 during the Cybersecurity Summit in Washington, DC

The US National Security Agency is making strides toward building a "quantum computer" that could break nearly any kind of encryption, The Washington Post reported Thursday.

The Post said leaked documents from fugitive ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden indicate the would allow the secret intelligence agency to break encryption used to protect banking, medical, business and government records around the world.

Quantum computing has been a goal among commercial firms such as IBM because it could harness the power of atoms and molecules, vastly increasing speed and security of computers and other devices.

But experts cited by the newspaper said it was unlikely that the NSA would be close to creating such a machine without the scientific community being aware of it.

"It seems improbable that the NSA could be that far ahead of the open world without anybody knowing it," Scott Aaronson of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology told the daily.

The NSA declined to comment on the report.

The Post said the leaked documents indicate that the agency carries out research in large, shielded rooms known as Faraday cages designed to prevent electromagnetic energy from entering or exiting.

Because of its vast computing power, a working quantum computer would break the strongest encryption tools in use today for online activities, including banking and emails.

Some technology firms such as Google and Yahoo have said in recent weeks that they were stepping up efforts to encrypt their communications following reports that the NSA had been able to break or circumvent many of the current encryption standards.

A September report by The New York Times, ProPublica and The Guardian, also based on leaked documents, said US and British spy agencies are able to decipher data even with the supposedly secure to make it private.

The documents indicated that the NSA, working with its British counterpart GCHQ, accomplished the feat by using supercomputers, court orders and some cooperation from technology companies.

If the reports are accurate, the highly secretive program would defeat much of what is used to keep data secure and private on the Internet, from emails to chats to communications using smartphones.

IBM researchers said last year they had made advances in that has the potential to outperform any existing supercomputer.

The new type of computing uses information encoded into quantum bits or qubits, putting into use a theory that scientists have been discussing for decades.

Quantum computing expands on the most basic piece of information that a typical computer understands—a bit, and thereby can perform millions of calculations at once.

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davidivad
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 03, 2014
wouldn't it be something if the nsa built a full boat quantum computer and it then took over the world quietly.
soaprules
1.8 / 5 (10) Jan 03, 2014
Snowden is not a fugitive, he's a hero.

Sorry, but when a small percentage of the government has unregulated powers, not to mention the power to watch over anyone and pretty much have the power of OMNIPOTENCE - thats a disaster waiting to happen. Have we forgotten how the government acts at times? RED SCARE era, MCCARTHEY era, COLD War, and now post-911/terrorism? LoL i guess being an editor/writer for Phys.org doesn't mean your smart in all subjects. Especially outside of science. I think i also told off an editor on here in an article about PC Gaming in the technology category, an editor/writer on here said "PC Gaming is dead, because consoles are popular".
johnksellers
1 / 5 (3) Jan 03, 2014
Good luck NSA, but you may be chasing your tail on this one. QIP = PSPACE....look it up! What it means that an interactive quantum computer can solve the same set of problems that conventional computers can solve.

Also, supposing you have a quantum computer that calculates your result, you still have to get the answer from the computer. Your only tool for doing so is statistics. In order to get an answer that can crack any code you have to distinguish your several hundred digit number from all other several hundred digit numbers....statistics is your only tool.

Well statistics rarely is used to an accuracy of part in a thousand or more....how in God's Green Earth are you going to do statistics that gives you an answer accurate to one part in a number that is several hundred digits long? I suspect that unfortunately the number of statistical samples you need to do so is beyond our means to achieve in any reasonable amount of time you care to name.

NSA, you may be out of luck.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Jan 03, 2014
The US National Security Agency is making strides toward building a "quantum computer" that could break nearly any kind of encryption

Guess we'll just have to switch over to one time pads. Doubles the bandwith needed, but mathematically safe (read: uncrackeable)
...if you can find a way to safely distribute the key.
Doug_Huffman
1 / 5 (1) Jan 03, 2014
Remember techno-peasants and Letters of Correspondence hand delivered.
Modernmystic
3 / 5 (2) Jan 03, 2014
Yes, exactly what I was thinking. *rolls eyes*

It's like giving a five year old who already has a bottle of whiskey a .44 magnum AND car keys....
Achille
5 / 5 (2) Jan 03, 2014
The claims of the Washington Post are grossly exagerated. First of all, there isn't any know and proven quantum computer yet. The D-Wave computer hasn't been yet qualified as a quantum computer, it isn't able to run the Shor's factorization algorithm which is at the heart of these claims of "universal decryption machine". Worst, the number of qubits required for such a quantum computer is huge, many thousands of qubits. It is not yet proven any technology can possibly scale the toy qubits in the labs to such a huge quantum computer without losing all the quantum advantage.

This article is pure sensationalism and NSA fear surfing.
davidivad
not rated yet Jan 03, 2014
i think that our efforts at encryption are stymied by ones, zeros, and logical gates. has anyone ever noticed that you can tell the difference between a person and code by the recognition of objects that humans can ascertain as letters. a computer has to have information prepared for it. obviously there is pattern recognition software out there but it s in its infancy and is eons away from what humans can do. i imagine one could build encryption around personal perspective. the objective of the reciever of the information having to decide what a given amount of information means to them in particular.
davidivad
not rated yet Jan 03, 2014
think about the number of bits it takes to build a full sized picture. that is some serious encryption. even individuals may understand what a picture means but will not relate it to experience with uncle tom per se.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.3 / 5 (3) Jan 03, 2014
one time pads... if you can find a way to safely distribute the key
Neal Stephensen described ways of defeating these in cryptonomicon.

"If the pad material is generated by a deterministic program, then it is not, and cannot be, a one-time pad; it is a stream cipher. A stream cipher takes a short key, and uses it to generate a long stream, which is combined with the message. Stream ciphers can be secure in practice, but cannot be absolutely secure in the same provable sense. At least one of the Fish cyphers used by the German military in WWII turned out to be an insecure stream cypher, not a practical automated one-time pad as seems to have been intended by its designers. Bletchley Park broke Lorenz machine messages regularly.

The random number generators that come with most computer programming languages, and in operating system call libraries, are often flawed."

-Guess youll just have to use a quantum computer to generate your keys.
Returners
1 / 5 (1) Jan 03, 2014
A September report by The New York Times, ProPublica and The Guardian, also based on leaked documents, said US and British spy agencies are able to decipher data even with the supposedly secure encryption to make it private.


So are China, anonymous, and at least one known professional hacker, who now consults for the government, I think as a plea deal from past crimes.

There was even a guy a few years back who proved you could break 128bit encryption using nothing but a PC. No super computer or quantum computer required. Now that took quite a while, I think it took something like 6 months to break one password, but the point is it's possible with materials available to everyone. Maybe it's already been more than a few years, they run together, but whatever. It happened.

Encryption is "secure", until you intercept enough transmissions. Given enough transmissions and enough computing power, you can break pretty much anything short of an actual code book.
Kimmo Rouvari
1 / 5 (1) Jan 03, 2014
I wouldn't be worried about NSA getting quantum computer. Heart of the idea is quantum superposition which is nothing but poor understanding of nature. NSA should keep on digging :-)
davidivad
not rated yet Jan 04, 2014
the idea of encryption lies around keys and the type of encryption you are using. if you want good encryption go open source. an example would be trucrypt. it gives you the option of key length and encryption type and is not owned by microsoft. there are other types for e-mail. i have played a bit with encryption and found that brute force is silly. you can spend eons doing this. most hackers know that you either exploit the software or use keyloggers to gather information. this is not so time consuming. the only way to stay ahead is to force them to use brute force. even a theoretical full fledged quantum computer has limits. breaking a picture down into bits creates a very long key exponentiating the computing cycles required to decrypt. remember first that the size of the picture will slow performance at your end too. however many pictures sent in the same file increase their cycle cost again. and only you know what to look for through inference and experience.
davidivad
not rated yet Jan 04, 2014
they cannot build a computer big enough to do every single thing if you go low tech. period. so send that little high value encrypted file like a dollar bill on a fishing rod. just remember that they can listen to your phone and track all your movement so they do not neccesarily decrypt anything. they can use statistics.
davidivad
not rated yet Jan 04, 2014
note that this is an idea so someone who plays with open source may want to modify some code.
markheim
not rated yet Jan 04, 2014
shit..
markheim
not rated yet Jan 04, 2014
I wouldn't be worried about NSA getting quantum computer. Heart of the idea is quantum superposition which is nothing but poor understanding of nature. NSA should keep on digging :-)


Incorrect, NASA uses quantum computers. It is hardly a poorly understood subject. The only factor of difficulty is the cost of materials, and with the government being able to make however much money it desires, they could easily pour it all into NSA. What happened to "innocent until proven guilty," eh?
Tangent2
1 / 5 (1) Jan 31, 2014
"It seems improbable that the NSA could be that far ahead of the open world without anybody knowing it," Scott Aaronson of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology told the daily.

Is the use of the word "improbable" meant to mean the same thing as when they said that it was improbable that the NSA was spying on everyone and absorbing large amounts of personal data?

If history is any indication, when anyone says that something is improbable/impossible, it is more than likely that the opposite is true.

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