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US Government Using PS3s To Break Encryption 570

Posted by timothy
from the purchase-order-shenanigans dept.
Entropy98 writes "It seems that the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Cyber Crimes Center, known as C3, has replaced its '$8,000 Tableau/Dell server combination' with more efficient and much cheaper $300 PS3s. Each PS3 is capable of 4 million passwords per second, and C3 currently has 20 PS3s with plans to buy 40 more. Naturally this is only being used to break encryption on computers seized with a warrant and suspected of harboring child pornography."
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US Government Using PS3s To Break Encryption

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  • What (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sopssa (1498795) * <sopssa@email.com> on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @06:17PM (#30149520) Journal

    being used to break encryption

    Each PS3 is capable of 4 million passwords per second

    Something doesn't match up. For first the different encryption schemes take different times to try even one password, and even more if you combine several of them together. Secondly you cannot try 4 million passwords in a second if its encrypted content, it takes a lot more than that.

    • Re:What (Score:5, Funny)

      by edittard (805475) on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @06:20PM (#30149562)
      Perhaps they're just hitting people [xkcd.com] with them?
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        +1 funny? Or +1 informative.

        In the UK they lock you in jail for year-after-year until you give them the encryption key. So much for the right to be presumed innocent until PROVED guilty.

        • Re:What (Score:4, Interesting)

          by isama (1537121) on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @06:42PM (#30149898)
          [sarcasm]You are guilty! You won't give us the key so you must be![/sarcasm]
        • Re:What (Score:4, Funny)

          by MRe_nl (306212) on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @06:54PM (#30150120)

          And that is why my password is"Pleasestophittingmeononotthewaterboardblipdoolpoolp"

          • Re:What (Score:5, Funny)

            by theaveng (1243528) on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @09:09PM (#30151598)

            +1 funny.

            What's your password?
            "Please stop hitting me."

            What's your password?
            "Please stop hitting me!"

            What's your password?
            "I TOLD you my password!"

            (smack). No you didn't! You're acting like a child. Stop playing these games. Tell us your password!
            "pleasetophittingme"!!!!!

            (smack). Oh great. He's unconscious.

            • Re:What (Score:5, Funny)

              by Chrisq (894406) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @05:15AM (#30154104)
              Could be worse, imagine if it was "fuck you, stupid customs official"
              • Re:What (Score:4, Funny)

                by Spazztastic (814296) <spazztastic AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday November 19, 2009 @08:45AM (#30154856)

                Could be worse, imagine if it was "fuck you, stupid customs official"

                My secret answer for a gaming account was "Your moms box." When I called them up and had to change my information, the guy asked me and I immediately realized what it was. Good thing he had a sense of humor, otherwise he might have thought my childhood superhero was his mom's box.

              • Close... (Score:3, Funny)

                by DarthVain (724186)

                My current one is something like "StupidITPassWordPolicy#23"

                I can't wait til I somehow get locked out or something and have to call IT help desk to look it up...

                Notice length, upper and lower, special chara, numbers..... and know that that number is required to change frequently...

                The one concession they made was it used to also compare the only and the new and if ANY part of it was identical it wouldn't accept it (like Password3 and Password4, etc...)

                I am sure that not brings down the percentage of people

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Apatharch (796324)

          If by "year-after-year" you mean two years* [openrightsgroup.org] then yes, you are correct. However, I get the feeling that's not what you intended to imply.

          * Or 5 years in terrorism-related cases

        • Re:What (Score:4, Interesting)

          by theaveng (1243528) on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @08:23PM (#30151140)

          +1 funny? Or +1 informative. In the UK they lock you in jail for year-after-year until you give them the encryption key. So much for the right to be presumed innocent until PROVED guilty.

          Sad but true. Refusal to share your encryption key or password is now illegal in Britannia.

      • Re:What (Score:5, Funny)

        by Beardo the Bearded (321478) on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @07:58PM (#30150882)

        "Look, we'll give you a PS3 if you tell us your password.

        "We'll even throw in the HDMI cable. We'll get it eventually; this way you and I can both go home before lunchtime."

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by plover (150551) *

      It's a news article featuring small sound bites and quotes. It's not an in-depth technological review. Nobody quoted the environment in which they benchmarking their tests: AES-128, 3DES, DES, or whatever.

      And yes you certainly could test 4 million passwords a second on these machines, but again it really depends entirely on what algorithm you're attacking.

    • Re:What (Score:5, Informative)

      by Swift Kick (240510) on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @06:25PM (#30149636)

      You're right. The submitter didn't read the article (or lacked the reading comprehension to understand it).

      The article says that "the networked Playstation 3s can process 4 million passwords per second, cutting down on the time necessary to find the correct combination.". Nowhere does it say that a single PS3 can do that.

      • by Khopesh (112447) on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @08:17PM (#30151084) Homepage Journal

        I've done a lot of password-cracking math, even toyed with the idea of writing an academic paper on it. Generally, I work on the (generous) assumption that a well-groomed single node can chunk through 100k passwords per second and that things scale perfectly, so 20 nodes would work through 2M passwords per second. They're claiming their 20-node cluster can handle twice that, and I fully believe it. Powerful GPUs are known to perform extremely well on password cracking, and PS3s certainly have them. That's twice the performance for half to a fifth the cost. Nice, but not "OMG."

        They plan to scale up to 60 nodes, which is 12M pass/s. To break a 8-character monospace password (37 bits of complexity, which is pretty weak), it would take just under five hours ( 26^8/(12*10^6) /60/60 ). However, to break an 8-character alphanumeric password (case and numbers), that becomes seven months ( (26+26+10)^8/(12*10^6) /60/60/24/365*12 ).

        This is only scary when you have a super-intelligent dictionary attack. Scrape the hard drive and any subpoenaed documents for words and add that to a dictionary of common password parts, then perform your dictionary attack -- dreadfully powerful. To avoid falling victim to this, a good rule of thumb is that words are awesome to use, and they're more secure, but they're only about as secure as two random characters (three with a rich vocabulary including 3 or more of: arcane words, uncommon foreign words, uncommon misspelled words, uncommon proper nouns, l33t-speak ...). So that 13-char "secure password" you use that looks like metropolitan8 effectively only has three or four characters to a dictionary attacker, and that clever 14-char password of spageti4dinner has only five or six, depending on how good the attacker's dictionary is at misspelled words. A tip: put punctuation inside your words to break them up (without forming words), e.g. metr[opo;%litan8, and you've pretty much defeated the dictionary attack.

        • A tip: (Score:3, Informative)

          by falconwolf (725481)

          put punctuation inside your words to break them up (without forming words), e.g. metr[opo;%litan8, and you've pretty much defeated the dictionary attack.

          I tried that once and was told I could not use a punctuation mark. I mix alphanumeric characters though.

        • by bertok (226922) on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @11:24PM (#30152620)

          However, to break an 8-character alphanumeric password (case and numbers), that becomes seven months

          Ah... theory!

          In practice, even very long passwords are trivially cracked in little time, using simple methods.

          Unfortunately, I lost the source, but while studying cryptography myself, I stumbled upon a quote from some guy involved in government decryption in the US, and (paraphrasing), he said that their technique was basically to pick up the hard disk from the machine with the protected content, and then simply try every consecutive range of bytes as a password.

          Unless the disk was encrypted with 'whole disk encryption', it works something like 90% of the time, simply because of stupid software saving plain-text passwords, users reusing passwords for various purposes, things like hibernation and page files, etc... I suspect that on disks from corporate networks, it would work even better, because if any one disk reveals the network admin password, you can unlock everything else from there.

          So if you have a 100 GB disk, and you try all byte ranges from 4 to 20 bytes long (to account for various password lengths), and you try every byte range as both an ASCII and UTF-16 string, that's merely 17x2x100*10^9 = 3400 billion passwords to try, or 3.2 days at your quoted "12 million passwords per second".

          In practice, most disks would crack much faster than that, if you aim the algorithm at the most likely sources first, such as the page and hibernation files, the user registry, and the web browser cache and configuration folders.

          The lesson I took away from that is that against an attacker with physical access, it really doesn't make the slightest difference how strong your password is, unless the entire disk is encrypted.

    • Re:What (Score:5, Informative)

      by blueg3 (192743) on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @06:29PM (#30149686)

      You usually don't care what the variable encryption scheme is when you're cracking -- typically, there is a method of simply verifying that the password is accurate, which is what they're doing. (Brute-forcing keys is fairly foolish with modern encryption systems, but brute-forcing passwords isn't.)

      • by sopssa (1498795) *

        If the encryption scheme is designed and done correctly, there isn't. Only way (besides getting the password out of the guy) is to brute-force all possible keys, several times for each encryption scheme and their combinations. Sure, you don't need to decrypt all the possible content right away there but just to see if it works, but you still need to go through every combination.

      • by RAMMS+EIN (578166)

        Exactly. I may be using 2048 bits keys to protect my data, but I am surely not going to enter a 256-byte password every time I need to authenticate. That makes my passwords clearly the weakest link. And if you consider that I can't even use all possible byte values in my password, the link becomes even weaker ...

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Wonko the Sane (25252) *

          Your passphrase should be quite a bit longer than eight characters if you care about your key at all.

        • The keys could be stored on a 2nd secure device, something like a TPM chip that nukes it storage after 3 invalid password attempts.

      • The number of combinations in a 128b encryption key is roughly equal to the number of combinations in a 20 (random) character password, when typed on a US keyboard.

        128b encryption is unbreakable even by military (2^128 is a cosmological number, and they only have astronomical computers ;-)). But if you use 19 characters instead of 20, the possible combinations shrink by roughly 99%. Compound that for each less password, and you see that a 10-character password takes about 0.0000000000000000001% of the time

  • by Eudial (590661) on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @06:19PM (#30149546)

    Naturally this is only being used to break encryption on computers seized with a warrant and suspected of harboring child pornography.

    ... suuuuuure.

    • Naturally this is only being used to break encryption on computers seized with a warrant and suspected of harboring child pornography.

      ... suuuuuure.

      No really, it is true. The guys that don't follow the law get much better funding, and they can afford to make their own custom ASICs to do it much faster. It is only the ones that take the silly 'legal route' that have to scrimp and save like this.

      -Charlie

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Totenglocke (1291680)
      Question: How does this get modded troll? Slashdot is known for it's blatant distrust of government surveillance, so how does pointing out that there's no reason to believe the government's claims that they won't use this for cracking anything but legally seized computers amount to trolling?
  • Naturally this is only being used to break encryption on computers seized with a warrant and suspected of harboring child pornography.

    That is the only thing they use them for... Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, Know what I mean?

  • Each PS3 is capable of 4 million passwords per second

    4 million passwords a second what?

  • Lovely encryption (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Applekid (993327) on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @06:27PM (#30149658)

    Good to know when the Government is cracking the encryption implemented by the public it's "cracking down on child pornography." When it's the public cracking encryption implemented by corporations it's a violation of the DMCA.

    • by BobMcD (601576)

      I had this thought exactly. And likewise if someone in Iran had assembled a cluster of PS3's as a super computer, we'd accuse them of being involved in other nefarious deeds...

    • submitter failed a lot in the summary, TFA says: C3 focuses on transnational Internet crimes, including child pornography that has crossed national boundaries.. It's not just for kiddie porn. It seems they would use the same tech if it was a suggested terrorist pc.

    • by mea37 (1201159)

      1) The cases you tend to think about where "the public" cracks encryption implemented by corporations are DMCA violations. However, that's not (as you imply) because of who's doing it or who implemented the encryption; it's because of what function the encryption is serving. If I crack the boot password on your laptop, DMCA violations aren't what I'm guilty of.

      2) Yes, there are many, many things that are permissable when done by the government but illegal if done by a private citizen. There always have b

  • by Animal Farm Pig (1600047) on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @06:30PM (#30149716)
    So, with a brute force attack, I've only got 36,030,233,524,592,808,479,552,335 years before they will reach mine!
    • by JavaBear (9872) *

      I wonder how long it'll take it to break it if the perp uses "id10t". Still, they are probably not using brute force.

    • by steelfood (895457)

      Depends. If you're using MD5 to verify the password that protects your stuff, you might be in trouble. Sure, that'd be looking for collisions, but all you have to do is find the right one.

    • by noidentity (188756) on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @07:46PM (#30150746)

      So, with a brute force attack, I've only got 36,030,233,524,592,808,479,552,335 years before they will reach mine!

      Thanks, we'll just skip ahead to the password we would have be trying 36,030,233,524,592,808,479,552,335 years from now, and crack your encryption today!

  • by davidwr (791652) on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @06:30PM (#30149718) Homepage Journal

    "He explained that the number of possible combinations in a six-digit password is 256 to the sixth power."

    Um, only if the person uses characters that can't be typed on a normal keyboard.

    In practice, the password "alphabet" is either 26, 52, 62, 84, or some other number not much above 84 characters. 84^6 is much less than 256^6.

    However, in practice, people who fear the cops will use a lot more than 6 digits.

    If the passwords are decent passphrases of, say, 6 words, taken out of a dictionary of even 2,000 common words, that's 2,000^6, or "still not that big of a number" as it's known in the security field. And that's if the person makes it easy by not using any spaces, using all lowercase, etc.

    The real smart crooks encrypt their stuff in a way that nothing short of banging them over the head with a $5 pipe wrench will ever reveal.

    • The real smart crooks encrypt their stuff in a way that nothing short of banging them over the head with a $5 pipe wrench will ever reveal.

      how would giving someone a concussion reveal their password?

      • Yeah. And there's no reason to do any "banging" anyway. Everyone I've ever wanted to get a password from just gave it to me when I showed them my tools!

    • by Wonko the Sane (25252) * on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @06:49PM (#30150030) Journal

      Um, only if the person uses characters that can't be typed on a normal keyboard.

      If the smart crooks are using any version of Windows then they can access all extended characters from their normal keyboard by holding down the ALT key and typing the character code on the numeric keypad.

      I used character 255 back in the Windows 3.1 days to make directories that no one else could figure out how to get in to. (DOS had no problem but windows couldn't handle a file with that character in the name)

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by PitaBred (632671)
      Bang them over the head? I'd go for the kneecaps and extremities. Hitting someone over the head to get knowledge out of said head seems a little foolish...
  • by LWATCDR (28044) on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @06:34PM (#30149794) Homepage Journal

    Really what is the problem with this. These computers are being searched AFTER a judge issues a search warrant. In other words constitutional law is being followed to the letter in this case.
    So what is the problem? Because it may involve child porn and you think that it is harmless? Well some of those computers have pictures of the victims "children" and the criminal act happening.
    There is nothing wrong with this legally.
    And having a fit about it is a clear case of calling wolf.
    I am sure this will be used in any investigation that involves a computer and not just for child porn.
    Complaining about the legal search of a computer after a warrant is issued is just stupid.

    BTW I am sure that the NSA has much better systems based on FPGAs and Cell chips for breaking encryption than PS-3s but we will never hear about those and that type of wiretap without a warrant is what I am worried about.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Hatta (162192)

      Who said there was a problem?

    • by commodore64_love (1445365) on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @07:07PM (#30150298) Journal

      >>>There is nothing wrong with this legally.

      Nope. Searches performed with the permission of a judge (warrant) are perfectly legal. ----- That's fine. It's the law that needs to be changed. IMHO there should actually be three stages - childhood, teenager, and adulthood. Then we'd no longer have the nonsense of teenaged boy/girlfriends being charged for "child porn" simply because they took photos of their own bodies. (For that matter nudity shouldn't even be illegal, regardless of age.)

      >>>wiretap without a warrant is what I am worried about.

      Agreed, As Judge Napolitano keeps repeating, the Patriot Act gives federal cops the ability to write their own warrants, without need to stand before a judge and swear an oath. That's just plain ridiculous.

  • " Naturally this is only being used to break encryption on computers seized with a warrant and suspected of harboring child pornography."

    You know, if you buy that one, I have this little red bridge I'd like to sell you.

  • http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5itMBF-kPRgoyoD97Y_DtvcyItGSQ [google.com]
    FARC data was opened after
    "It took Interpol two weeks running 10 computers simultaneously 24 hours a day to break into the encrypted files, the agency said." in 2008.
    C3 seems to be funded with extra millions so whats missing with this story?
    Why buy toys? Toys have cheap bottlenecks as "Halo" at 620p showed.
    Sony PR, a cry for funding and power ? Why this dependance on Sony suburban plastic?
    If federal agents find more PS3's via forfeitu
  • As we all most likely know, It would be impossible* to actually try 4 million passwords per second. I'd be willing to wager the actual headline should be:

    "PS3s have been purchased to calculate 4 Million hash-table lookups per second."

    Step 1: load hash table to RAM.
    Step 2: let the brute force CPU bang away at it till it finds a match.

    4MFLOPS seems much more likely.

  • by rahvin112 (446269) on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @06:55PM (#30150148)

    There is a difference between cracking encryption and the password used to secure the encryption. The article says they are using the systems to crack passwords, not encryption. The submitter has a reading problem.

  • How does this work? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AP31R0N (723649) on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @07:20PM (#30150456)

    Seems to me that a reasonably well designed OS would lock after 4 password attempts. How are they entering all these passwords w/o the system balking?

    i'm asking because i don't know, please don't mod me a troll for not knowing something.

  • Hmmmm (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Idiomatick (976696) on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @07:30PM (#30150566)
    With the planned 60 PS3s assuming they brute force it and worst-case. It will take them:

    At 8character passwords w/ letters and numbers only, 3.3hours.
    Upper and lower case increase that figure to 10.5days. (With 9 characters 7.15years)
    84character set brings us up to 119.5days.
    Note: I just used x^8 which isn't totally accurate, the numbers in reality are a bit larger but it doesn't matter much.

    This makes me wonder in case this is true. We are running up to a physical limitation in the human brain. People already have trouble memorizing the dozens of 8character passwords. 9 characters will hold moores law off for a few more years (not the precise meaning of moores law but you know what i mean). The problem is also that people are getting more accounts for things. Most people even today use the same passwords for a variety of things. I'd say almost all people.

    So I ask the /. crowd are there any good alternatives to passwords that are feasible? Something secure. Something that can be implemented on websites. What do you think we should be working towards? Is there already something in place that you can give an example of?
  • by Stanislav_J (947290) on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @08:39PM (#30151324)

    Naturally this is only being used to break encryption on computers seized with a warrant and suspected of harboring child pornography.

    Naturally. (*wink-wink* *nudge-nudge* say no more...)

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