Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not a subscriber? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Calling All Idle Computers

www.distributed.net

The Internet has changed the concept of the supercomputer: No longer a monolithic machine tucked away in a university or government lab, it can now comprise a network of ordinary computers working together on a single project. Distributed.net serves as the clearinghouse for information on such “distributed computing” efforts. The site seeks to promote this practice by developing client software and a network of users. The software, available for most major platforms, analyzes data when the client computer would otherwise be idle.

Distributed.net has sponsored several contests to break encryption codes, including the 56-bit Data Encryption Standard (DES) used by the federal government. In the most recent attempt, Distributed.net users teamed up with the Electronic Frontier Foundation to break a DES-encrypted message in less than 24 hours. A contest now under way seeks to crack the stronger 64-bit RC5 protocol. The nearly 200,000 users of Distributed.net can ally themselves with one of over 7,000 teams, competing to analyze the most data and eventually crack the code. Another project in the works will search for members of a class of numbers known as Optimum Golumb Rulers, which have applications ranging from radio astronomy to X-ray crystallography. You don’t need a continuous Net connection to contribute your computer to these communal quests, just as long as you log on every day or so.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to MIT Technology Review.
  • Print + All Access Digital {! insider.prices.print_digital !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    The best of MIT Technology Review in print and online, plus unlimited access to our online archive, an ad-free web experience, discounts to MIT Technology Review events, and The Download delivered to your email in-box each weekday.

    See details+

    12-month subscription

    Unlimited access to all our daily online news and feature stories

    6 bi-monthly issues of print + digital magazine

    10% discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Access to entire PDF magazine archive dating back to 1899

    Ad-free website experience

    The Download: newsletter delivery each weekday to your inbox

    The MIT Technology Review App

  • All Access Digital {! insider.prices.digital !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    The digital magazine, plus unlimited site access, our online archive, and The Download delivered to your email in-box each weekday.

    See details+

    12-month subscription

    Unlimited access to all our daily online news and feature stories

    Digital magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Access to entire PDF magazine archive dating back to 1899

    The Download: newsletter delivery each weekday to your inbox

  • Print Subscription {! insider.prices.print_only !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six print issues per year plus The Download delivered to your email in-box each weekday.

    See details+

    12-month subscription

    Print magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    The Download: newsletter delivery each weekday to your inbox

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.