Magazine article Security Management

Parasites on the Web: A Potential Hack Attack Technique Called Parasitic Computing May Be Coming to a PC near You. (Tech Talk)

Magazine article Security Management

Parasites on the Web: A Potential Hack Attack Technique Called Parasitic Computing May Be Coming to a PC near You. (Tech Talk)

Article excerpt

If you want to join the fight against cancer, discover how DNA works, or help astronomers search the skies for signs of alien life, you can--without lifting a finger. Distributed computing networks turn home users' computers into part of a virtual supercomputer that can perform time-intensive operations. One example is SETI@home, which runs a program on home computers to analyze data collected from the Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico, looking for patterns that might indicate intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. The program runs when the computer's screensaver is activated.

But some scientists have discovered that it's possible to force computers to work on computational problems without an owner's knowledge or permission. They have dubbed this "parasitic computing."

In a proof-of-principle paper published in Nature, scientists from the University of Notre Dame explained how a distributed network of unwitting Web servers could work. Communication across the Internet depends on a set of protocols that break messages into pieces when the message is sent and put the pieces back together in proper order when received. According to the scientists, one of these protocols, the transmission control protocol (TCP), could be used to solve a piece of a mathematical problem whose answer could then be relayed back to the original user.

When a message is sent, the sender's TCP creates a checksum, a numerical interpretation of the message, used to verify the integrity of the data. …

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