Quantum Computing, The NSA And The Future Of Cryptography

The NSA can already crack most cryptography; now it’s working on a quantum computer to bust the rest. Is it the end of for-your-eyes-only?

A June 6, 2013, file photo, is an aerial view of the cooling units at the NSA's Utah Data Center in Bluffdale, Utah. Electrical failures are complicating the opening of the National Security Agency’s largest data storage center. (AP)

A June 6, 2013, file photo, is an aerial view of the cooling units at the NSA’s Utah Data Center in Bluffdale, Utah. Electrical failures are complicating the opening of the National Security Agency’s largest data storage center. (AP)

The world’s been up in arms because the US National Security Agency, the NSA, has been tapping and hacking and buying its way into private data all over the place.  What if it didn’t have to tap and hack and buy?  What if the NSA could build a quantum computer that could break any encryption out there and walk right in?  The latest news out of the revelations from super-leaker Edward Snowden says it’s trying.  Racing for a computer exponentially more powerful than anything now.  This hour On Point:  the NSA, quantum computing, and the future of cryptography.

– Tom Ashbrook


Steven Rich, database editor for the investigative at The Washington Post. (@dataeditor)

Seth Lloyd, professor of mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Matthew Green, cryptographer and research professor at Johns Hopkins University. Author of the blog, “A Few Thoughts On Cryptographic Engineering.” (@Matthew_D_Green)

From Tom’s Reading List

Washington Post: NSA seeks to build quantum computer that could crack most types of encryption — “The development of a quantum computer has long been a goal of many in the scientific community, with revolutionary implications for fields such as medicine as well as for the NSA’s code-breaking mission. With such technology, all current forms of public key encryption would be broken, including those used on many secure Web sites as well as the type used to protect state secrets.”

Wired: The quest to make encryption accessible to the masses — “Kobeissi’s challenge, to make encrypted online messaging user-friendly, has long been a bugbear of the crypto community. A paper, written in 1999, demonstrated that the encryption program PGP completely baffled most users in a series of tests. The study, now fourteen years old, is still frequently cited today as a long-unanswered call to arms.”

A Few Thoughts On Cryptographic Engineering: How does the NSA break SSL? — “You see, the NSA BULLRUN briefing sheet mentions that NSA has been breaking quite a few encryption technologies, some of which are more interesting than others. One of those technologies is particularly surprising to me, since I just can’t figure how NSA might be doing it. In this extremely long post I’m going to try to dig a bit deeper into the most important question facing the Internet today. Specifically: how the hell is NSA breaking SSL?”

Listen: The Eerily-Awesome Music Of A Quantum Computer

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