February 1, 2014
NSA Targeting Quantum Computing for Next Level Of Surveillance
Enid Burns for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Over the past several months, news has continued to leak about the extent that the US National Security Agency (NSA) has gone to spy on the public both abroad and domestic. Much of the news has stemmed from documents revealed by NSA contractor Edward Snowden. While the Obama administration has made statements that the NSA will back off from its surveillance efforts, news has come out that the government agency is developing new tactics to pursue its surveillance efforts.
In a report to be released in the February 6 issue of Physics World, it has been learned that the NSA is looking to quantum computing, or advanced machine learning, to continue and even delve deeper into its surveillance activities.
Author Jon Cartwright, who graduated with a Masters in Physics from the University of Bristol in the UK, notices that the NSA's interest in quantum computing "has renewed interest and sparked debate on just how far ahead they are of the world's major labs looking to develop the same technology," it said in an institutional statement about the Physics World article.
The news of the agency's use of quantum computers is not new. The NSA announced a partnership with two US institutions to develop quantum computers back in 2006.
"However, according to documents leaked by whistle-blower Edward Snowden, and published last month by the Washington Post, the NSA also wishes to develop the technology so that it is capable of breaking modern internet security," the Physics World statement said.
The NSA has used a number of tactics to tap into phone lines, email accounts and even offline computers. Earlier in January it was discovered that the NSA uses radio waves to spy on computers, even when they are not connected to the internet.
Quantum computers were discovered in the latest leaked documents. The documents also offer insight into the NSA's efforts, showing that the agency "is attempting to exploit practical loops in QKD under a program known as 'Owning the Net'." the statement read.
QKD, or quantum key distribution, is a technique that guarantees the security of an encryption key based on fundamental aspects of quantum mechanics.
Since the news has been available, the NSA's intentions to use quantum computing to continue its spying efforts have not surprised the community.
"If you put my level of surprise on a scale from zero to 10, where 10 is very, very surprised, my answer would be zero," said Raymond Laflamme, a quantum information theorist at the University of Waterloo in Canada.
The bill for quantum computing is estimated to run about $79.7 million for the project, which has been dubbed, "Penetrating Hard Targets." The technology could be used to process the large volume of data, and factorize large numbers, "quickly deciphering encryption keys that are used to protect sensitive information."
"Quantum computers are still expected to be many years away, with the control of qubits -- the packets of information that quantum computers would process -- a major sticking point for physicists; however, the extent to which the NSA has developed the technology remains largely unknown," Cartwright concludes in the article.