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Quantum computing promises to be one of the most transformative innovations of the 21st Century, enabling researchers to construct more detailed scientific models than ever before; but it could also undermine the cryptographic algorithms that underpin the entire World Wide Web, according to former NSA technical director Brian Snow.

Unlike conventional computers, which require data to be encoded into binary digits (bits) with values of either zero or one, quantum computers use quantum bits (qubits), which represent both zero and one values. If these qubits are placed in an 'entangled' state – physically separated but acting as though they are connected – they can represent a vast number of values simultaneously.

As a result, the existing limitations of computing power are thrown out the window, and quantum computers are theoretically able to solve problems that even today’s most advanced supercomputers struggle to handle.

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