MIT student newspaper article

Nelson Minar (
Wed, 7 May 1997 22:48:44 -0400

An article appeared in yesterday's MIT paper about our efforts with
deschall. In the fifteen hours after distribution of the paper we
added about 120 machines - a 50% increase! I think by tomorrow we'll
have surpassed for machines and might even take number one
for number of keys cracked per day.

Contact your school papers!

Here's our article, from

MIT Computers Compete To Crack DES Encryption

By Frank Dabek
Associate News Editor

Students and faculty at MIT are becoming increasingly active in an
Internet-wide effort to break the 56-bit Data Encryption Standard algorithm,
an encryption method commonly used by the government and the private sector
to protect sensitive information. RSA Laboratories is offering $10,000 to
the first person who obtains the correct key.

MIT computers are working with computers from hundreds of other universities
and businesses across the nation in several brute-force attempts to crack
the encryption system, which was created by RSA. The networks of computers
are trying each of the 72,057,594,037,927,936 possible keys to find a match.

An informal rivalry has also developed, as different universities attempt to
determine who can test the most keys each day.

As of Sunday, 226 machines in the domain were contributing to one
effort, organized by Rocke Verser at,
to link machines over the Internet. Verser has agreed to share $4,000 of the
$10,000 prize to the individual whose machine finds the actual key.

MIT machines tested over 6 million million keys Sunday, putting it in fifth
place behind the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Oregon State
University, Pennsylvania State University, and Carnegie-Mellon University.
MIT peaked at third place last week.

At the current rate at which keys are being checked, it is estimated that
the code will be broken in approximately 27 weeks. However, because the
number of machines participating has been growing rapidly - doubling every
eight to 11 days - the key may be found much sooner.

*Athena resources may be used*

James M. Kretchmar '99, chairman of theStudent Information Processing Board,
said that SIPB was "thinking about installing a client" to allow students to
run the client while they were logged in if they wished.

"We can't automatically run the client on workstations," he said. "We're not
IS." In addition, "[users] should get full resources" of the Athena
workstation they are using while running a DES challenge client.

Kretchmar said that SIPB had not resolved which effort to join. Verser's
effort is only one of several plans to break the key. SIPB is looking at an
effort based on an algorithm developed at MIT, Kretchmar said.

Since finding the key will result in a monetary gain, questions arise as to
whether participating in this contest violates Athena rules of use. "The
Internet is available for student use," said Karen Hersey, intellectual
property counsel for IS. However, students are "not supposed to be
conducting commerce" using the Internet.

It is "probably questionable" whether the effort would be considered a
commercial effort since it has "educational value," Hersey said. But if the
effort became a nuisance by overloading resources, IS might step in to stem
its growth, she said.

Copyright 1997,96, The Tech. All rights reserved.
This story was published on May 6, 1997.
Volume 117, Number 24.
The story began on page 1 and jumped to page 13.

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