WASHINGTON, Jan. 3 (UPI) -- The U.S. National Security Agency is building a computer to break encryption used to protect banking, business and government records globally, documents show.
Documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden indicate the agency is developing a program to create "a cryptologically useful quantum computer" that would be exponentially faster than current computers, as part of a $79.7 million research program titled "Penetrating Hard Targets," the Washington Post reported Friday.
Much of the research is being carried out under classified contracts at a laboratory in College Park, Md., the Post said.
The development of a quantum computer has long been a goal of computer experts and could revolutionize research in many scientific fields, but such technology would likely mean all current forms of public key encryption, including those used on many secure Web sites and used to protect state secrets, could be broken.
The Snowden documents suggest the NSA's efforts have not put the agency ahead of the efforts of the best civilian research programs into quantum computing.
"It seems improbable that the NSA could be that far ahead of the open world without anybody knowing it," Scott Aaronson, a computer scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said.
The NSA did not respond to a request for comment on the report, the Post said.