Two team of boffins have independently set up quantum computers running proof of concept versions of an algorithm for factorisation.
The development poses a threat to the security of the cryptographic codes, based on public key cryptography, that protect ecommerce. Both teams used rudimentary laser-based quantum computers to implement Shor's algorithm, a mathematical process for factoring numbers. The difficulty of factoring the product of extremely long prime number is the mathematical principle used to underpin the security of cryptographic keys.
One of the teams was led by Andrew White at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, and the other by Chao-Yang Lu of the University of Science and Technology of China, in Hefei. Both used rudimentary quantum computers in a proof of concept demo, factoring the number 15.
That's a bit like using the laser weapon from Diamonds are Forever to warm up a cup of tea but what establish that the boffins are on the right track. Quantum computers are firmly in the world of engineering possibility, although the process of building a viable machine is still a long way off. New Scientist carries a story of the research in its latest edition. A short summary is available here but the full low down is available to subscribers only. ®