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Irony: NSA worried hackers with super computers might break current encryption standards

Published Aug 25th, 2015 6:35PM EDT
NSA Encryption Quantum Computers

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The National Security Agency (NSA) has a bunch of sophisticated tools at its disposal to conduct massive data collection operations all in the name of doing good – and that’s definitely something you’d want from your intelligence agencies. Ironically, the NSA is already worried about the advanced computers that might be available to humans in the not so distant future, which could be used by hackers to break the complex cryptography that makes possible encryption. 

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Why is this ironic? Because the NSA and other spy agencies want to break that encryption that protects your communications and are unhappy when online services and products can protect the user’s privacy with built-in encryption. The NSA also wants quantum computers of its own.

According to a report in the International Business Times, experts at the NSA are “deeply” worried that quantum computers will be able to break encryption if used by the hackers of the future.

Such computers are expected to arrive at some point in the next 50 years, and should offer users significantly upgraded computing power that could break the complex mathematical equations that make encryption possible. Quantum computers could solve math problems “like integer factorization, discrete logarithm mod primes and elliptic curve discrete logs” that are essential to encryption, IBD writes.

Quantum computers would likely not be available to regular users though. Even so, the NSA’s worries are warranted, as other nations’ intelligence agencies’ quantum computers could attempt to break into the USA’s various services that are connected to the Internet in one way or another.

The NSA is currently advising companies and government agencies to invest in quantum-resistant encryption that would prevent the computers of the future from breaking through security protocols. That kind of encryption would also be resistant to the NSA’s encryption-hacking powers, at least in theory.

“It is important to note that we aren’t asking vendors to stop implementing the Suite B algorithms [or 3072 bit RSA encryption, Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) 256 bit keys and Elliptic Curve P-384] and we aren’t asking our national security customers to stop using these algorithms,” the NSA said. “Rather, we want to give more flexibility to vendors and our customers in the present as we prepare for a quantum-safe future.”

More details about the NSA’s quantum-resistant encryption plans are available on the agency’s website, at this link.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.