WASHINGTON The National Security Agency is racing to build a computer that could break nearly every kind of encryption used to protect banking, medical, business and government records around the world. The Washington Post , citing documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden , said the effort to build "a cryptologically useful quantum computer" a machine exponentially faster than classical computers is part of a $79.7 million research program titled "Penetrating Hard Targets." Much of the work is hosted under classified contracts at a laboratory in College Park, Md. The revelation comes amid continuing controversy over the spy agency's program to collect the phone records and Internet communications of private citizens. It said with such technology, all current forms of public key encryption would be broken, including those used on many secure websites as well as the type used to protect state secrets. Although the full extent of the agency's research remains unknown, the documents provided by Snowden suggest that the NSA is no closer to success than others in the scientific community, the daily said. Some technology companies such as Google and Yahoo ! have said in recent weeks that they were stepping up efforts to encrypt their communications following reports that the NSA had been able to break or circumvent many of the current encryption standards. Experts cited by The Washington Post said it was unlikely that the NSA would be close to creating such a machine without the scientific community being aware of it. "It seems improbable that the NSA could be that far ahead of the open world without anybody knowing it," Scott Aaronson , an electrical engineering and computer science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology , told the newspaper. Snowden, who is living in Russia under temporary asylum, last year leaked documents he collected while working for the NSA. The United States has charged him with espionage, and more charges could follow. The NSA appears to regard itself as running neck and neck with quantum computing labs sponsored by the European Union and the Swiss government, with steady progress but little prospect of an immediate breakthrough. "The geographic scope has narrowed from a global effort to a discrete focus on the European Union and Switzerland ," one NSA document states.
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