The U.S. National Security Agency is attempting to build a new breed of supercomputer that theoretically could make short work of cracking most keys used for encrypted communications.
The project to build ?a cryptographically useful quantum computer? is part of an $80 million research project called ?Penetrating Hard Targets? that is taking place at a campus in College Park, Maryland, according to The Washington Post. The newspaper quoted documents it said were provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
Since the early days of encryption, an important defense in the security of each system has been the amount of time it would take to attack and discover the encryption key. The longer the time required, the greater the motivation and financial investment needed to discover the key.
As computers have gotten more powerful, longer encryption keys that are harder to crack have been employed, so today keys of 256 bits or more are common, especially for sensitive information. Even with a powerful supercomputer, experts generally agree it would take many years to crack a single key of 256 bits or more.