Xbox 360 owners may stop fictional criminals in Crackdown, but the PS3 is being used to stop actual crime – by helping FBI agents crack passwords on computers used by child pornographers.
With a warrant, government investigators can seize the computers and hard drives of suspected child pornographers, but data is often encrypted, and the Fourth Amendment – which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures – makes it illegal to force or otherwise coerce suspects into coughing up their passwords. So, what do you do when you need (relatively) cheap processing power? You turn to Sony’s PS3.
“Bad guys are encrypting their stuff now, so we need a methodology of hacking on that to try to break passwords,” said Claude E. Davenport, a senior special agent at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Cyber Crimes Center (aka C3). “The Playstation 3 – its processing component – is perfect for large-scale library attacks.”
In order to crack a password, one has to try every possible permutation of characters. In a six-digit password, the number of different possibilities is 256 to the sixth power, or 281,474,976,710,656 – yes, that’s more than 281 trillion. A network of powerful PS3s, all running custom software, can try 4 million passwords every second, and while this still results in a maximum possible time of 70,368,744 seconds (1,172,812 minutes, 19,546 hours, 814 days, 2.23 years) to try every single combination, it’s much faster than a human could ever hope to do.
While any current-gen gaming console (well, maybe not the Wii) possesses the number-crunching power to perform these calculations (they possess the number-crunching power to render CryEngine graphics, of course), and are all significantly cheaper than the ~$8,000 Tableau/Dell server combinations that were being used for this task before, the FBI uses the PS3 thanks to its adaptability and the ease of installing Linux – at least, on the older models. The new PS3 Slims aren’t as adaptable as the old models, so the FBI has turned to sites like eBay to snatch up an additional 40 old-school PS3s for a total of 60 consoles.
Plus, you have to figure that the agents can sit down for a round of Killzone 2 on the weekends when not busy to put suspected child-porn producers behind bars.
The PS3: It can convict kiddy-diddlers, investigate black holes, and it plays Blu-Ray movies, too!