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Pico FPGA Hardware Beats GPGPU in Password Cracking

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There's no secret that graphics cards such as NVIDIA GeForce, Tesla as well as AMD Radeon are being used by security agencies worldwide. Their goal is to crack the passwords of suspects as much as 10-20x faster than the most expensive Intel processor is able to do. Today, another company is claiming its stake in lucrative security business.

When it comes to password cracking business, agencies all around the world rely on ElcomSoft software. Yet, the company proved itself to be brave enough to experiment with the new architectures, instead of relying on proven 'big iron' hardware. Back in 2008, I wrote the first article on how ElcomSoft is enabling GT200 (GeForce GTX 280) cards to crack passwords 10-20x faster than the Core 2 Duo processor. The article was greeted with a negative reaction from a very senior Intel executive, who threatened to "destroy NVIDIA" and offer faster computing than the best of their own products. That faster part was called Larrabee, and even in its ressurected form as 22nm Knight's Corner, there are serious doubts can Intel still claim x86 compatibility for Xeon Phi or is that product… another Itanium?

With the GPGPU or GPU Computing slowly breaking into mainstream, ElcomSoft is at it again. The company "discovered FPGA" architecture and accelerated two of its password breaking suites using the high-performing Pico FPGA hardware. The two suites in question are the same applications which were the first to harness the power of the GPU: Phone Password Breaker (EPPB) and Wireless Security Auditor (EWSA).

According to ElcomSoft CEO, Vladimir Katalov; "Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) will fit the bill just perfectly. A single 4U chassis with a cluster of FPGA’s installed can offer a computational equivalent of over 2,000 dual-core processors. The power consumption of FPGA-based units is dramatically less than that of consumer video cards. For example, units such as Pico E-101 draw measly 2.5 W. FPGA-based solutions don’t even approach the level of power consumption and heat generation of gaming video cards, running much cooler and comprising a much more stable system."

Now, truth to be told, we're not sure how much talk about dual-core processors holds ground, but in order to reach the computational power of let's say AMD Radeon 7970, you would need to buy no less than 40 Xeon E5-2687W processors. However, if you compare EX-501, a 150W PCIe board with six Pico M-501 modules and 3GB DDR3 memory, you would need to purchase around 400 8-core E5-2687W processors to match its performance. This represents another shift in magnitude and serves as a strong reminder that the current x86 architecture is simply too inefficient when it comes to specific computing demands.

If your job is to select the best system for Phone or Wireless cracking, choosing four hundred 130W processors (which require complete infrastructure consuming thousands and thousands of watts extra) over a single board with six Xillinx Virtex-6 processors is something only a fiscally irresponsible person would do. In fact, we might question sanity (or corruption) of the said individual or organization.

In phone password cracking, it seems that the new king is taking place… however, having said that, we find it odd that ElcomSoft does not compare the latest hardware they have in store. The CPU and GPGPU figures given in this article come from my own testing, while ElcomSoft is showing its results on yesterday hardware.

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