Sunday, 16 January 2011

Thunder in the Cloud

I suppose it was only a matter of time before someone exposed the dark side of cloud computing. Graphics processing chips are experts at floating-point calculations and matrix transformations. These forms of maths are particularly useful for cracking security keys. Ergo, GPUs (Graphic Processing Units) are good for cracking codes. Until recently the Amazon Electronic Cloud Computing (EC2) platform didn't offer GPUs, only the more conventional CPUs. EC2 allows you to massively scale up your processing power and charges for it like a utility. This very useful for one-off heavy computation tasks, or for web startups who, if they find their site becomes incredibly popular very quickly, can scale up automatically, without incurring significant infrastructure costs.

So, Amazon EC2 cloud + GPUs = massive GPU processing power for rent = great hacking platform. I suspect this is just the beginning: this is a new battleground for good vs evil exploitation of technology.

The interesting question, for now, is the ethical one: should Amazon prevent such activity? There was a lot of criticism when Amazon booted Wikileaks off their cloud. As one pundit on put it "Amazon should show the same responsibility that Ford show in preventing their cars from being used as getaway cars." (ie. none). However, the counter-argument could also be that military contractors are obliged not to sell their state-of-the-art tech to dodgy countries.
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