isnt it possible to just go
why woudl it take so long to crack? woudlnt a computer go thru every numeral and letter by the thouands per second?
Bigger keys take more time to crack using brute force methods-- so as computers get faster, the keys get bigger.
Currently 256-bit keys are considered "good enough" because the computing power that it would take to go through all the possible permutations in a reasonable amount of time (i.e. less then 10 years?) is pretty unrealistic.
When computers get much faster... they will just up the key size to 512, or 1024 bits.
Integer factorization is believed to be computationally infeasible with an ordinary computer for large integers that are the product of only a few prime numbers (e.g., products of two 300-digit primes). By comparison, a quantum computer could efficiently solve this problem using Shor's algorithm to find its factors. This ability would allow a quantum computer to "break" many of the cryptographic systems in use today, in the sense that there would be a polynomial time (in the number of bits of the integer) algorithm for solving the problem. In particular, most of the popular public key ciphers are based on the difficulty of factoring integers (or the related discrete logarithm problem which can also be solved by Shor's algorithm), including forms of RSA. These are used to protect secure Web pages, encrypted email, and many other types of data. Breaking these would have significant ramifications for electronic privacy and security. The only way to increase the security of an algorithm like RSA would be to increase the key size and hope that an adversary does not have the resources to build and use a powerful enough quantum computer.
A way out of this dilemma would be to use some kind of quantum cryptography. There are also some digital signature schemes that are believed to be secure against quantum computers. See for instance Lamport signatures.
Besides factorization and discrete logarithms, quantum algorithms offering a more than polynomial speedup over the best known classical algorithm have been found for several problems, including the simulation of quantum physical processes from chemistry and solid state physics, the approximation of Jones polynomials, and solving Pell's equation. There is no mathematical proof that an equally fast classical algorithm cannot be discovered, although this is considered unlikely. For some problems, quantum computers offer a polynomial speedup. The most well-known example of this is quantum database search, which can be solved by Grover's algorithm using quadratically fewer queries to the database than are required by classical algorithms. In this case the advantage is provable. Several other examples of provable quantum speedups for query problems have subsequently been discovered, such as for finding collisions in two-to-one functions and evaluating NAND trees.
Consider a problem that has these four properties:
1. The only way to solve it is to guess answers repeatedly and check them,
2. There are n possible answers to check,
3. Every possible answer takes the same amount of time to check, and
4. There are no clues about which answers might be better: generating possibilities randomly is just as good as checking them in some special order.
An example of this is a password cracker that attempts to guess the password for an encrypted file (assuming that the password has a maximum possible length).
For problems with all four properties, the time for a quantum computer to solve this will be proportional to the square root of n. That can be a very large speedup, reducing some problems from years to seconds. It can be used to attack symmetric ciphers such as Triple DES and AES by attempting to guess the secret key. Regardless of whether any of these problems can be shown to have an advantage on a quantum computer, they nonetheless will always have the advantage of being an excellent tool for studying quantum mechanical interactions, which of itself is an enormous value to the scientific community.
Grover's algorithm can also be used to obtain a quadratic speed-up [over a brute-force search] for a class of problems known as NP-complete.
There are 2^256 possible keys when you use a 256-bit key.
1.1579208923731619542357098500869 x 10^77 keys.