DNA Key to Decoding Human Factor
Secret Service's Distributed Computing Project Aimed at Decoding
By Brian Krebs
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
For law enforcement officials charged with busting sophisticated
financial crime and hacker rings, making arrests and seizing computers
used in the criminal activity is often the easy part.
More difficult can be making the case in court, where getting a
conviction often hinges on whether investigators can glean evidence
off of the seized computer equipment and connect that information to
The wide availability of powerful encryption software has made
evidence gathering a significant challenge for investigators.
Criminals can use the software to scramble evidence of their
activities so thoroughly that even the most powerful supercomputers in
the world would never be able to break into their codes. But the
U.S. Secret Service believes that combining computing power with
gumshoe detective skills can help crack criminals' encrypted data
Taking a cue from scientists searching for signs of extraterrestrial
life and mathematicians trying to identify very large prime numbers,
the agency best known for protecting presidents and other high
officials is tying together its employees' desktop computers in a
network designed to crack passwords that alleged criminals have used
to scramble evidence of their crimes -- everything from lists of
stolen credit card numbers and Social Security numbers to records of
bank transfers and e-mail communications with victims and accomplices.
To date, the Secret Service has linked 4,000 of its employees'
computers into the "Distributed Networking Attack" program. The
effort started nearly three years ago to battle a surge in the number
of cases in which savvy computer criminals have used commercial or
free encryption software to safeguard stolen financial information,
according to DNA program manager Al Lewis.