In what could be called the
largest distributed-computing effort ever, tens of thousands of
computers linked across the Internet, under the leadership of
distributed.net, decrypted a message encoded with the government’s
56-bit DES encryption algorithm. This was part of a contest
sponsored by RSA Labs. "Once again, we have shown that 56 bit
encryption is not strong enough for protecting sensitive data,"
said David McNett, one of the projects primary coordinators. This
successful breach of the 56-bit DES algorithm represents the
second such achievement by distributed.net and the third time a 56-
bit algorithm has been compromised in the past year.
The distributed.net effort to decrypt the encoded message required
massive computing power, harnessed by utilizing the idle, or
otherwise unused computing power from ordinary office and home
computers. Combined, these machines managed to evaluate 88% of the
keyspace, or 63 quadrillion keys, before finding the winning key.
At the close of the contest there were nearly 1400 active teams
processing over 34 billion keys each second at a combined
computing power equivalent to more than 22 thousand high-end
personal computers. The work was performed entirely using
consumer PCs during off-hours or otherwise idle time. Add them
all together, however, and you have the world's largest computer.
The winning key was found by a Alpha-based computer running DEC
Unix. Of the US$5000 prize from RSA Labs, the winner, who wishes
to remain anonymous, will receive US$1000. US$3000 is being
donated to the Free Software Foundation, a non-profit organization
dedicated to eliminating restrictions on copying, redistribution,
understanding, and modification of computer programs. They do this
by promoting the development and use of free software in all areas
of computing---but most particularly, by helping to develop the
GNU operating system. The remaining US$1000 is being retained by
distributed.net to assist in funding future projects.
If you want to find out more, you may want to check out these sites first:
The RSA DES Challenge II home page
distributed.net - Project DES