Harden Up: Can We Break Your Password With Our GPUs?

Do you think your passwords are keeping your data nice and safe? Do you have archived files you don't want anyone to see? Let's see how fast we can crack your lock using our graphics cards. If anything, this is a wake-up call to lock down your valuables!

Locking your keys in the car is never fun. The last time that happened, I spent the better part of my day waiting for a locksmith. Happily, I can say that's one of those mistakes that I only made once; I haven't lost sight of my keys since.

The funny thing is that, for all of my deliberate effort, I simply cannot keep track of my digital keys (passwords) when I sit down at a computer. There are just so many of them, and we're trained to not use the same one on every site. Physical keys are just easier to keep track of. Even when you lose them, they're still somewhere. It's all a matter of retracing your steps. Besides, at least there are specialists (like locksmiths) to help lower that security barrier, if you really need them.

That's also true when it comes to passwords, at least to a certain extent. Whether it's your email or bank account, online password recovery is generally a painless process. There's usually some sort of a "Forgot Your Password?" link that allows you to reclaim access. However, the prospects for digital files are usually more forlorn. I recently discovered this while I was trying to access an old encrypted WinZip archive.

Before we dive too deep into password recovery, we should point out that there are many ways to protect your data. If you're looking for a more comprehensive solution, we would suggest something like TrueCrypt (check out Protect Your Data! TrueCrypt 7.0a's Performance, Analyzed), which is even more attractive now that it supports AES-NI instructions. Yet, archive encryption remains the most ubiquitous way to secure data. Whether you're someone in HR emailing the weekly payroll or Blake Lively trying to keep those personal iPhone photos a little more personal, encrypting an archive is fast and easy.

There is, however, a bit of a misunderstanding on just how secure your data can really be. If you're paranoid about security, you're naturally going to favor the strongest encryption scheme possible. The presumption is that a stronger encryption scheme is more difficult to break, suggesting that AES-256 is better than AES-128. That's not the whole truth. Think of encryption like a big vault. The thicker the armor, the harder it is to penetrate the safe. However, the security of a vault is only as good as the lock that secures it. That is what a password does. It's the vault's key. The longer your password, the more complicated the lock and the more secure your data is.

Most people assume that an eight-character-long password is good enough to keep hackers at bay. That's not exactly true either, and we're about to show you why.

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