Since 1977, RSA public-key encryption has protected privacy and verified
authenticity when using computers, gadgets and web browsers around the globe,
with only the most brutish of brute force efforts (and 1,500 years of processing
time) felling its 768-bit variety earlier this year. Now, three eggheads (or
Wolverines, as it were) at the University of Michigan claim they can break it
simply by tweaking a device’s power supply. By fluctuating the voltage to the
CPU such that it generated a single hardware error per clock cycle, they found
that they could cause the server to flip single bits of the private key at a
time, allowing them to slowly piece together the password. With a small cluster
of 81 Pentium 4 chips and 104 hours of processing time, they were able to
successfully hack 1024-bit encryption in OpenSSL on a SPARC-based system,
without damaging the computer, leaving a single trace or ending human life as we
know it.

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