The NSA is building a quantum supercomputer that it hopes will be able to break all encryption codes. If successful, the machine will decipher not just diplomatic messages sent by foreign governments, but also the codes used in online banking and most other businesses and industries.
Work on the "Penetrating Hard Targets" project, which has so far cost $80 million, is being undertaken at a laboratory in Maryland. But the NSA is not the only organization attempting to create such a machine—there are research teams in the U.S. and Europe working on similar developments. None of them have had any breakthrough with the kind of algorithm needed to crack the code.
Then there is the small problem of quantum computers' fragile state. "If you don't protect them from their environment, then the computation will be useless," said Daniel Lidar of the Center for Quantum Information Science and Technology at the University of Southern California.
[Image of Bletchley Park's Bombe machine, used to help decrypt German messages during World War 2: Flickr user mendhak]