January 11, 2011, 12:19 PM — In what is certainly the clearest sledgehammer-vs.-ant matchup of the week, German security specialist Thomas Roth found a way to use the massive power and elasticity of the Amazon EC2 multi-datacenter cloud-computing platform to crack the password on a wireless router.
Roth's attack is straight brute force. He wrote a script that creates millions of possible passwords, encrypts them and tries them on the network he's attacking at 400,000 passwords per second.
The app, which he plans to release at this year's Black Hat conference later this month in D.C., uses a feature of EC2 that allows GPU chips to be used for processing as well as graphics, vastly expanding the encryption-cracking potential of the grid.
His accomplishment will fill in the gap for hackers who have not been able to figure out how to sniff, crack and spoof wireless identities using any of the 321,000 how-to guides and videos available on a first-pass search of Google.
An Amazon spokesperson was quoted by Reuters as saying Roth didn't violate its policies by building the app or doing the crack, as long as he wasn't using it for nefarious purposes.
Many of those are kind of old, of course. Some only show how to crack the much simpler WEP encryption, rather than WPA, which is the level of security Roth said he can crack in about six minutes.
That's far better than an apparently competing service called WPA Cracker that also runs as a cloud-based application and promises to crack WPA encryption in about 20 minutes, for $17.
Both approaches are a lot quicker and cheaper than trying to brute-force a WPA password with an ordinary PC, which could take days.
Most of the wireless-cracking schemes on those thousands of how-to guides don't use brute force, though. There are more efficient ways to approach it, including using pre-defined lists of common passwords rather than randomly generated ones.