Skip to main content

Gaming Console used as hacking device

A New Zealand security consultant (opens in new tab) working with found out a way of using Sony Playstation 3 console as a brute force password cracker.

Nick Breese managed to increase "the current upper limit of 10-15 million cycles per second - in Intel-based (x86) architecture - up to 1.4 billion cycles per second."; that's a 100 fold increase in performance which is impressive.

The Playstation 3's strength resides in its microprocessor, the Cell Broadband Engine, a 3.2GHz monster containing 32 Arithmetic Processing Units, which was create by Sony in collaboration with Toshiba and IBM.

Rather than being an adept multi-tasker (being able to do and knowing how to do several things at the same time), the Cell Unit is a one trick pony, capable of doing non-complex calculations very quickly.

The Cell Broadband Engine is said to have a stunning 1 teraflop worth of raw processing power (opens in new tab).

By contrast, the world's most powerful supercomputer can deliver around 250 Teraflops.

The ability to perform password cracking on a gaming console is a worrying factor given the fact that they are widely available, take less space and cheap compared to a traditional computer.

Furthermore clusters of Playstation 3 (opens in new tab), which are aggregated bunches of gaming consoles, have already been tested and it can be envisaged that in a near future, hackers will be able to use hundreds of Playstation 3 to crack passwords in minutes rather than days.

The technique was showed (opens in new tab) on Saturday the 17th at Kiwicon, a gathering of the hacker and computer security community of New Zealand.

Last month, Russian-based software developer Elcomsoft (opens in new tab) has filed for a patent to develop a password recovery method (in other words, a password cracker) based on a video graphics card unit.

Already, companies like AMD are developing technologies (opens in new tab) which aim at harnessing the power of graphic video cards.

The Firestream 9170 GPGPU - General Purpose Graphic Processing Unit - for example can deliver up to 500 GFLOPS of computing power for USD 1999.

Désiré Athow

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website building and web hosting when DHTML and frames were en vogue and started writing about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium. Following an eight-year stint at where he discovered the joys of global tech-fests, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro. Previously he was a freelance technology journalist at Incisive Media, Breakthrough Publishing and Vnunet, and Business Magazine. He also launched and hosted the first Tech Radio Show on Radio Plus.