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Cracking Passwords with the Playstation 3 Cell Processor

The Sony Playstation 3 may be lagging in popularity and retail sales, but it continues to perform well at raw number crunching. Previously, scientists were impressed by the multi-core Cell processor’s ability to blaze through floating point mathematics – especially those vector based algorithms. To date, the most effective, non-entertainment use of the Playstation 3 as an HPC platform has been folding@home, dubbed the most powerful distributed network in the world. The Playstation 3 has also found a home in the lab, where astrophysicists are measuring "gravity waves" with a cluster of the entertainment consoles. Enter a new purpose for the gaming platform – password cracking. Security researcher Nick Breese adapted MD5 hashing algorithms to operate on a linux powered Playstation 3, effectively making use of the floating point SIMD (single instruction multiple data) instructions to boost cracking performance to 1.4 billion keys per second from 10-15 million keys per second. It’s not without precedent for Playstation processing power to be used for national security purposes. In 2000, Saddam Hussein was purported to be building a supercomputer from a stockpile of PS2s to evade UN bans on computer hardware for possible military purposes. Breese’s motivations were much more subtle, according to his interview "the initial reason for embarking on the research project was to get the company to buy him a PS3."

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