According to documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the NSA dreams of a quantum computer that can break nearly every type of encryption -- one it is working towards (in part, at least) via a program called Penetrating Hard Targets, a $79.7 million project. The NSA isn't the only entity working on making a quantum computer reality, and such technologies would have widespread benefits beyond the cryptographically-oriented industry and various spy games.
Whether the NSA has advanced beyond similar efforts underway at the civilian level is unknown, but the Washington Post is reporting such efforts on the government's part are no farther ahead in terms of progress. A large amount of the work is reportedly taking place via classified contracts with a College Park laboratory, but not much is known beyond that.
If such a technology is developed, all forms of public key encryption could be broken. The documents seem to state the NSA is performing a lot of its research in Faraday cages, something said to be necessary to keep the "delicate" experiments up and running. No immediate breakthroughs seem likely, however, and MIT associate professor Scott Aaronson took that a step further, saying: "It seems improbable that the NSA could be that far ahead of the open world without anybody knowing it."
Experts who spoke to the Washington Post expressed doubt that any such computer could be developed in the next five years, but that isn't stopping the NSA from trying. The security agency, according to the document, is concerned that quantum computing could have future implications on both the ability to spy on the communications of foreign entities, but also to protect its own communications from other agencies beyond the US.
SOURCE: Washington Post