Wednesday, November 12, 2008

And You Thought Graphics Cards Were Just For Gaming

I have always been a fan of the latest and greatest hardware and always been amazed on how fast new hardware is getting. Well now the Security field is going to have to start worrying about how this hardware is being leveraged to crack passwords. The Nvidia Corporation has harnessed the functionality of the C programming language and integrated it with their newest GPU’s to form the CUDA Technology.

In Fact, even the Lenovo T60 and T61’s are loaded with Nvidia Quadro graphics cards that can run CUDA software. There are even Python bindings for CUDA and many other languages may enter this arena. Applications for Fluid Dynamics, Digital Media, Electronic Design, Finance, Game Physics, Audio and Video, and many more have already been developed and more are on the way.

What I mentioned before is about Information Security. There is also software released to take advantage of “password recovery” and it is stunningly fast. Modern dual-core CPU’s such as the Intel Core 2 Duo and the AMD Athlon X2’s are able to test approximately 2 trillion passwords in about 3 days whereas CUDA based “Password Recovery” software can do 55 trillion in the same time frame. That is almost 25 times faster!

The reason these new cards are able to run software like this is because these new generation chips, named the G80 series, are able to compute fixed-point operations. The new Nvidia GTX 280 Graphics card boasts 1GB of 1100 MHz GDDR3 memory on a 512-bit path with 240 processing cores (actually called ALU’s) running at 600-650 MHz at a cost of $450/card.

Nvidia says the card is able to reach close to 1 Teraflop (Trillions of floating point operations per second) of compute capability. The first super computer to reach the 1 Teraflop barrier was in December of 1997 and was the size of a mid-sized house. It was 76 computer cabinets holding 9072 Pentium Pro Processors. ( You can check back at for the fastest super computers in the world.

So with these Desktop Super-Computers doing tasks that multi-million dollar Teraflop computers are capable of, what if someone found a way to harness this technology to crack passwords in your organization? Or if they captured enough data and were able to un-encrypt classified data? How about AES-256 bit encrypted hard drives? Let’s look at it this way. Most likely your company’s password complexity is too weak. The only way to make it harder (still not impossible) is to force your users to use long pass-phrases, strengthen your domain policies and provide user awareness training.

The thing that makes this CUDA Technology so fast is that threads are able to communicate. These 240 cores work in tandem using Parallel Data Cache (A.K.A. shared memory which saves clock cycles since it isn’t going all the way out to the card’s GDDR memory for additional data or temporary storage. Additionally, with the current Nvidia software and the proper hardware configuration, you can strap 1-4 of those cards to a quad core CPU and have an absolutely amazing system that could reach the 2 TeraFLOP range. And if that isn’t enough, Nvidia allows their consumers to over clock within the Nvidia Control Panel software.

One company has already gone the distance to “recover” passwords. Elcomsoft makes a software package that allows up to 10,000 distributed client workstations to “recover strong encryption keys” with each client having up to 4 GPU’s each. What government agency or research lab wouldn’t want something as powerful as that? The software is capable of “recovering” MS Office 97-07 passwords, Zip and RAR passwords, MS Money, Open Documents, all PGP passwords, Personal Information Exchange certificates - PKCS #12 (.PFX, .P12), Adobe Acrobat PDF, Domain Cached Credentials, Unix passwords, Intuit Quicken Passwords, MD5 Hashes, Oracle Passwords and WEP, WPA and WPA2 Passwords. ( Many of those operations are considered to be “GPU Accelerated” Options.

According to Elcomsoft’s own press release "Elcomsoft Distributed Password Recovery allows using laptop, desktop or server computers equipped with supported Nvidia video cards to break Wi-Fi encryption up to 100 times faster than by using CPU only." The software is said to support ATI Graphics cards early next year. I would find it only a matter of time until the underground community uses this technology to crack DRM as well as other cryptographic enabled media. (

Remember, this technology doesn’t have to be used in just password “recovery.” ( There is such a large amount of science and technology that will benefit from this. Mathematics, Digital media, Programming and best of all, Games.

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