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28 November 2007, 16:30

High speed password cracking on PlayStation 3

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The Sony PlayStation 3 gaming console has been used to generate high speed MD5 hashes by a New Zealand security consultant. He claimed a rate of over 1.4 billion iterations per second in a presentation at the Kiwicon conference in Auckland. The researcher attributes this performance to both the parallelism available from the multi-core processor and the simplicity of the processor architecture. Generating hashes for the words in a dictionary or simply all valid character combinations and comparing the result to a given hash from a password file is the basic mechanism of password cracking.

Nick Breese, the kiwi penetration tester who performed the experiment, pointed out that the PlayStation's architecture is "very suitable for cryptography", being optimised for high speed repetitive execution of simple processes. The processor uses six cores, each capable of executing four calculations simultaneously due to a Single Instruction, Multiple Data internal architecture. This permits 24 simultaneous calculations on the device as a whole, which runs at a clock rate of 3.2 GHz, implying that an iteration occupies around 50 machine cycles.

Breese claims to have achieved a speed improvement factor of 100 over previous upper limits. In earlier experiments he conducted on a Core 2 Duo processor he apparently attained around eight million iterations per second. It is not clear right now how the performance demonstrated in the PlayStation test compares with that of the GeForce-8 solution recently introduced by Elcomsoft. Nevertheless, at 300 UK pounds or less (half the price of the Elcomsoft software package alone), this demo potentially puts super-fast password hash cracking in the hands of almost any user.

Apparently pure research was not the only motive for this project. Breese is himself a gamer, and this project justified to his bosses the business expense of a PlayStation 3 for his office!


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