What is an Amiga anyway?

For those readers who have stumbled upon these pages and don't know what an Amiga is: it's a proprietary computer system introduced in 1985, built around the Motorola 68k processor line and lately around the Motorola (and IBM) PowerPC CPU as well as emulation (usually x86 based), featuring a multitasking OS that was well ahead of its time and probably the most avid following of any computer system around. Historians for some reason only seem to remember Apple and Wintel clones, but at its highest point in the early nineties Amiga had around one third of the home computing market. It has been plagued by mismanagement and due to this several bankruptcies and buyouts along the way, making for a real rollercoaster ride for any fan. Some remain in it for the entertainment value of an amazing soap opera. Currently AmigaOS is in the hands of KMOS Inc. (who have renamed themselves to Amiga Inc.) of Delaware, USA, who sell (nice buzzwords like) 'enabling technology'. They bought Itec LLC who Amiga Inc. (the Washington flavour) sold the rights to AmigaOS to in early 2003 (though this was only announced in March 2004). Amiga Inc. (formerly Amino) remain in possession of the Amiga trademark (marketing AmigaDE, a wireless Java based gaming middleware from TAO Group Ltd. of the UK, who helped buy Amiga IP in 1999 from the previous owner Gateway (who remain in possession of some Amiga patents and bought it from the now defunct German PC retail outfit Escom in 1997, who in turn bought it from the Commodore bankruptcy in 1995)). The Commodore name has wandered about a bit as well, suffice to say that both Commodore and Amiga are not what they once were.

You can find a comprehensive archive of Amiga related links, information, daily news and user group information at Amiga.org, Amiga-News.de (German, English).

AmigaOS 4 is still being developed by Hyperion Entertainment VOF of Belgium. Althogh currently no "official" Amiga hardware is being manufactured, someone always seems to be trying to bring new machines to market, like Eyetech's various AmigaOne PowerPC runs. Additionally, some former Amiga developers split off on a separate development branch in 1999 with MorphOS and the Pegasos PPC machines, involving several companies of their own (bPlan, DCE, Thendic-France/USA, Pretory, Genesi SARL, etc. with their own appropriate amounts of trouble along the way). MorphOS related news is to be found at www.morphos.net, with fora such as www.morphzone.org.

Although many refer to both as the red and blue camp, as far as this effort is concerned both tangents constitute 'Amiga', as well as more or less known emulation, hybrid or native alternatives like UAE, Amithlon and AROS.

What is this all about?

Mainly exposure for the Amiga platform, some technical, some political and some 'doing humanity good' type considerations. It all started out as a fun thing to do with some Amiga enthousiasts banding together in a team after Amiga clients became available for the RC5 effort in 1997 and quickly grew into literally thousands of members. This has diminished since the Amiga progressed through to retro/collectible status, but a hard core of enthousiasts continues nevertheless.

The first effort was the RSA Secret Key Challenge, which was about the need for stronger encryption for the Internet to safeguard privacy. To prove this need and to prove that a lot of encryption strengths are insufficient RSA Labs started a challenge to 'crack' the DES and RC5 algorithms (RC5 in several different strengths) and tied an award of up to US $10,000 to each key found. In the late nineties several combined efforts have sprung up to find these keys which make an encrypted message readable by using the distributed power of computers in a brute force approach over the Internet, so far attacking the 56 bit DES encryption (three times), the first five RC5 keystrenghts (40, 48, 56, 64 and 72 bit) and unrelated to the RSA contests, a 56 bit CSC encrypted message. More secure encryption methods such as AES were introduced as a result.

One of these combined efforts (Distributed.net) also supported other projects unrelated to encryption, such as proving Optimal Golomb Rulers (so far OGR-24, 25, 26, 27 and 28 marks, for a description of some of these see below).

Note that these efforts do not completely render such encryption 'broken' as they only search for a single key/hidden message, they however show that given enough time and effort any information encrypted with them should not be considered secure. Although it may take a volunteer effort years to break the heavier versions, in a decade it may take days or less, so cracking a single message now with some effort may render it totally unsecure by then, or totally unsecure now to a number of organizations around the world. Especially with unforeseen computing advances or algorithmic attacks which greatly facilitate a brute force approach, or given a dedicated entity who has the resources (i.e. computing power). There have been several real world examples of this, most notably the EFF's Deep Crack machine which was a purpose built FPGA chip array for cracking DES, and the enhanced attacks on the WPA WiFi encryption using the massive parallelism in modern graphics cards. In the medium term quantum computing might obsolete the current factor based algorithms altogether.

Since we do not have the resources to write and maintain all of our own clients, servers etc. we participate in efforts already underway which have their own infrastructure, for example the Distributed.Net/Bovine effort (Bovine is the project name for RC5 challenges; Distributed.Net may be referred to as D.Net here and on other pages for brevity). Many Amiga developers have taken part in writing and porting software for these, see the thanks and miscellaneous sections for a complete list.

Note that the Amiga team efforts have nothing to do with 'security' in the sense of 'Trusted Computing Platform Alliance (TCPA)' and Microsoft's 'Palladium' or 'Digital Rights Management (DRM)'. Although these are based on using encryption, their goal is not enhancing your privacy but rather creating a 'trusted' or 'secure' computing environment which could be applied for both good and evil, even though the involved parties may present it differently. The implications of these are far reaching and could well be abused or subverted for corporate goals, even result in an uncanny focusing of power over your desktop and possibly life in the hands of a very few entities (which of course includes Microsoft). For further reading see the TCPA/Palladium FAQ.

What's in store for the future?

Another objective of the Distributed Amiga effort is to explore distributed computing using the Amiga platform, to this end we will add more efforts and diversify our objectives in the future, stay tuned! Next to encryption challenges this includes mathematical problems like OGR, and possibly things like human genome research, distributed chess, perhaps distributed rendering and many others we probably cannot even foresee yet.

Efforts we have been or are participating in right now are described below.

Efforts and award money

United Devices' THINK/LigandFit cancer research (concluded on 27-Apr-2007)

Formerly THINK and now called LigandFit was the first public application of distributed computing to fight cancer, your machine uses idle CPU power to search for specific characteristics in certain molecules, in search for derivatives that can be used for constituting a cancer treatment drug. The effort is co-sponsored by Intel and benefits the researchers at the National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) Centre for Drug Discovery in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Oxford, England. Started on April 3rd 2001, it was estimated to run for approximately one year but has been extended with new proteins to be researched due to the huge success, all the way up to 2007. There were cash prizes and other goodies available through United Devices in various contributed power and sweepstakes based contests for participants (though only US, UK and Canadian residents over 18 were eligible, and only if you also participated in at least one secondary commercial project). As of 01-Nov-2001 however UD have decided not to offer cash and sweepstake prizes anymore citing the economic climate, conserving expenses, and the apparent motivation of most participants to participate for idealistic reasons instead of cash prizes. United Devices have split off the public distributed efforts to be hosted under www.grid.org in the beginning of 2003. UD were acquired by Univa in 2007 and the public Grid projects shut down, for many of these pages please use the Internet Archive.

OGR (OGR-24 completed on 01-Nov-2004 - OGR-25 completed on 24-Oct-2008 - OGR-26 completed on 24-Feb-2009 - OGR-27 completed on 19-Feb-2014 - currently running: OGR-28)

Optimal Golomb Rulers are special case solutions to a combinatorial analysis problem and useful for certain engineering tasks (for example sensor placements for X-ray crystallography, radio astronomy etc.), coding theory, communication technology, human genome research and many other fields.

The object of this challenge is to find the shortest possible (or optimal) Golomb Ruler for what is called a 'mark' (consisting of a number of nodes this could be compared to units of keys in encryption challenges) and to prove that known solutions are either optimal, or find a better solution. This actually implies the best solution, since all the possibilities are searched in a brute force manner, just like for the encryption challenges, except that once this is done it is finished, while an encryption algorithm remains 'secure' with a different key.

The difficulty for finding the OGR for a given mark increases with each mark exponentially (and depends on the previous optimal solution). D.Net (and therefore us as well) are currently engaged in finding the optimal solution for possibly up to mark 49, which is apparently the highest still useful number. The previously known best OGR for the marks we have completely searched have been confirmed as optimal, which is a useful result in itself since no more effort has to be spent on finding a better solution for them, or restarting for all the higher marks since a better solution can no longer be found for the lower ones.

No prize money is tied to these contests.

Look up the D.Net OGR pages for more in depth information about OGR.

RC5-72 a.k.a. RC5-32/12/9 (currently running) (terminated by RSA Labs on 21-May-2007)

The latest installment of the RC5 challenges, see below for background info. With the termination of this project at the 72 bit keylength RSA Labs have conluded that the point has been proven.

RC5-64 a.k.a. RC5-32/12/8 (concluded on 14-Jul-2002)

This RSA Labs challenge is concerned with attacking the RC5 algorithm in various strengths and finding the right key to the secret message contained in a keyspace consisting of 264 possible keys for RC5-64.

RSA Labs have tied an award money of US $10,000 to this challenge for each key found, distributed.net, organizing the cracking effort, has split this into several parts. US $6000 goes to the top most voted charity, US $2000 to distributed.net for funding of future projects, US $1000 to the individual finding the key and the remaining US $1000 goes to the team he/she is associated with, in our case the Amiga RC5 Team should we have found the key. The voting page seems to have moved so it's unclear what charity got the money.

Originally we intended to split any winnings evenly between all members of the Amiga team. However, the effort has been far more successful than we had hoped for (thousands of members), resulting in an even distribution of the money being a silly idea. We didn't decide on anything before the key was found and it was not our team unfortunately so this point is now moot :) Should we win in the future the possibilities are to be decided in a popular vote and could include something like a T-shirt with a catchy phrase for example. A separate 'limited edition' team T-shirt has already been printed (and basically sold out), others may follow.

Basically we aim to participate not for the money, but for the exposure this gets for the Amiga and its enthusiastic following, and of course for the fun of it. It does not matter what machine you run clients on, such efforts are headed under the Amiga name. Of course an Amiga cracking a code would be cool, to say the least.

For RC5-64 the key was found by an anonymous participant with an unspecified P3/450 machine after the effort searched 85.5% of the keyspace in 1757 days. Distributed Amiga (with 2770 participants out of a total of 331,252 individuals) ended up ranking 7th out of 12,639 teams with ~1% of all work contributed.

For RC5-72, at the moment the challenge was terminated after 1630 days (having searched 0.416% of the entire keyspace), Distributed Amiga (with 776 participants out of a total of 76,039 individuals) ranked 7th out of 4,768 teams with ~1% of the work contributed. Clearly this challenge would have taken a long time before Moore's Law caught up with it, although participation obviously dropped quite a bit due to more worthwhile projects competing for cycles.

CSC (concluded on 16-Jan-2000)

An intermediate challenge hosted by D.Net aiming to crack French designed CSC (by CS Communications & Systems, now apparently part of Ritzenthaler) in 56 bit strength. The award of 10,000 Euros tied to this feat was won by Paul Ilardi, a graduate student at the University of Rochester, USA (the machine finding the key was a Sun SparcStation). The effort was concluded well inside the March 17th 2000 deadline, after 62 days. The Amiga team ranked 5th overall, out of almost 4000 teams, and did 1.11% of all the work (or just over 4 million blocks of 228 keys tested each).

DES III (concluded on 19-Jan-1999)

The third DES 56 bit challenge, rebadged from the originally intended DES II-3 to DES III. Due to the fast conclusion of DES II-2 by EFF, RSA Labs decided to give us a little more time, which means the prize money is US $10,000 if the key is found within 24 hours, $5000 if found within 48 hours and $1000 if found within 56 hours, after which there is no award. For this interim contest EFF and Distributed.Net have decided to join forces to solve it even quicker.

After 22 hours and 15 minutes, the key was indeed found, with a bit of luck too (22.2% of keyspace was searched). The key was found by the EFF's Deep Crack machine also participating with us under Distributed.Net's main effort.

DES II-2 (concluded on 16-Jul-1998)

The second interim DES challenge (third including DESChall), expected to only last around ten days, cracked in 2.5 by EFF. Another exercise in showing encryption weakness, for details see currently running RC5-64, most are the same, except this challenge does the 56-bit DES encryption, which is by now looking pretty weak and is tied to a time limit with decreasing amounts for the award money.

DES II-1 (concluded on 23-Feb-1998)

DES II-1 was an interim RSA Labs Challenge contest in the same vein as the previous DES contest (before RC5-56), this time tied to a time limit for the award. Set up as a reminder of just how weak 56 bit encryption really is and how much computing power has increased in the few months since the original DES challenge was concluded. This was illustrated by finding the key in only 40 days compared to the previous 210. The half-yearly interim RSA challenges will continue with 'DES II-2', with an adjusted time limit (25% of previous time (the 40 days for DES II) for US $10,000, 50% for US $5000, 75% for US $1000 and nothing after that).

The award money of US $5000 (key was found within the 45 days limit but not within the 22.5 day limit for US $10,000) was split up between the most voted Free Software Foundation (US $3000), Bovine/DCTI/distributed.net (US $1000) and the anonymous finder (US $500/500 for individual/team).

RC5-56 a.k.a. RC5-32/12/7 (concluded on 20-Oct-1997)

The winning key for the RC5-56 challenge (after having searched 47% of the keyspace in 210 days) was found by Peter Stuer, working for the STARLab Bovine Team coordinated by Jo Hermans and centered in the Computer Science Department (DINF) of the Vrije Universiteit in Brussels, Belgium.

Of the US $10,000 prize from RSA Labs, Mr. Stuer (an ex-Amigan ;) received US $1000. US $8000 was donated to Project Gutenberg, a non-profit organization created for the purpose of converting the classics of literature into electronic format for the unlimited public use. The remaining US $1000 was retained by distributed.net to assist in funding future projects.

Is this legal?

The word 'cracking' usually has a negative connotation, implying illegal activity. This is not the case here, the RSA Secret Key challenge and efforts participating are fully legal. The cracking is simply used in the sense of cracking a tough nut.

See also D.Net's explanation of ITAR.

A word of warning: using systems you have access to should be approved by the owners/administrators, a hacked system or a system running the client without express permission from the administrator will mean disqualification from our and the D.Net effort. Be sure to ask permission before you run the client on your work, university or ISP account/machine. A home machine connected through above is obviously yours to command, the actual CPU doing the work is meant here.

Want to join? See the how to join section.