Documents leaked by Edward Snowden reveal a $79.7M government program titled “Penetrating Hard Targets” designed to build a “a cryptologically useful quantum computer” to crack encrypted data. A quantum computer is exponentially faster for cracking the codes used to protected data from interception.
Snowden’s documents indicate that the government is no closer to building a quantum computer than physicists and scientists in academe or the private sector.
“It seems improbable that the NSA could be that far ahead of the open world without anybody knowing it,” said Scott Aaronson, an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The leaked documents also show that the research is conducted in protected rooms known as “Farady cages,” blocking electromagnetic energy from entering or exiting the room.
If the government is successful at building a quantum computer, they would be able to crack the widely used and popular RSA incryption standard that “scrambles communication” to anyone but the recipient intended to receive the communications.