We all know that if we want to be able to… well… transgress someone else’s private computer and internet stuffs, there’s a subterranean culture with a dress code involving black hats where, for the right price, you can get all kinds of tools that will open up all kinds of unsavory possibilities. These are the guys our computer security systems are trying to protect us from. They’re the guys your mother warned you about.
If we keep them out of our computers, then we’re ok. Right?
Oh yeah… there’s this NSA thing going around. Scooping up vast quantities of data (the exact amounts of which seem unclear, but all of which estimates seem to qualify as “vast”). Hmmm… and they’re not getting it from our computers, but rather from folks we pay for computer services (or, in some cases, from folks that offer the services for free). We can protect our data on our systems (or so we believe), but once it leaves us and starts traversing the net, we’ve lost control.
OK, not great, but at least we can encrypt our data and password-protect our files. Someone may intercept the transmission, but at least they won’t be able to read the payload, right? Assuming they’re not consorting with the black hats, anyway…
In order for… I’m not sure what to call the NSA types, since they don’t quite seem like white hats. Gray hats perhaps? In order for the gray hats to break into our actual messages, they’d need to figure out the key or some password or something. And that’s hard to crack – intentionally hard, or else it wouldn’t be secure. So we’re OK. Right?
It’s certainly hard to crack passwords and keys, but, given enough computing power, it’s doable. Of course, software takes time to execute, even when using GPUs; something that’s accelerated in hardware would be just the ticket!
And, voilà! Pico Computing has just announced an FPGA-based acceleration system for cracking passwords. Oops! Wait, sorry – “cracking” is an ugly word. “Recovering” is the preferred euphemism. As in, “Bob left the company and didn’t give us his password. How are we going to open his files?” Why, recover the passwords, of course. One obvious corporate use model. How often is that needed? Hard to say. Probably a lot less often than gray hats might want to recover a password, however.
This is where it’s easy to slip into the Land of Evil. Let’s be clear here: I’m not saying Pico Computing or their technology is being evil. (I know, I know: “Technology isn’t evil, People are evil.”) In fact, Pico Computing isn’t really doing the cracking; they’re accelerating tools from a company called Elcomsoft. Elcomsoft focuses specifically on locked documents that require a password to open, so it’s not so much about decrypting encrypted traffic.
Nonetheless, amidst a sea of technology announcements promising security, I think this is the first announcement I’ve seen that gleefully promises to help compromise security. Although they don’t really say it that way, of course… You can see what they do say in Pico Computing’s release.