NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland.NSA/Reuters
The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) is attempting to develop a computer that could ultimately break most encryption programs, whether they are used to protect other nations' spying programs or consumers' bank accounts, The Washington Post reported Thursday.
The report, which the newspaper said was based on documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, comes amid continuing controversy over the spy agency's program to collect the phone records and Internet communications of private citizens.
In its report on Thursday, The Washington Post said that the NSA is trying to develop a so-called quantum computer that could be used to break encryption codes used to cloak sensitive information.
Such a computer, which would be able to perform several calculations at once instead of in a single stream, would have implications for such fields as medicine, the newspaper reported, and would take years to develop.
The research is part of a $79.7 million research program called Penetrating Hard Targets. Other nongovernmental researchers are also trying to develop quantum computers, and it is not clear whether the NSA program lags behind the private efforts or is ahead of them.
Some technology companies such as Google and Yahoo have said in recent weeks that they were stepping up efforts to encrypt their communications after reports that the NSA had been able to break or circumvent many of the current encryption standards.