Energy-efficient distributed password hash computation on heterogeneous embedded system

Published in Automatika, 2022

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This paper presents the improved version of our cool Cracker cluster (cCc), a heterogeneous distributed system for parallel and energy-efficient bcrypt password hash computation. The cluster consists of up to 8 computational units (nodes) with different performances measured in bcrypt hash computations per second [H/s]. In the cluster, nodes are low-power heterogeneous embedded systems with programmable logic containing specialized hash computation accelerators. In the experiments, we used a combination of Xilinx Zynq-series SoC boards and ZTEX 1.15y board which was initially used as a bitcoin miner. Zynq based nodes use the improved version of our custom bcrypt accelerator, which executes the most costly parts of the bcrypt hash computation in programmable logic. The cluster was formed around the famous open-source password cracking software package John the Ripper (abbr. JtR). On the communication layer, we used Message Passing Interface (MPI)library with a standard Ethernet network connecting the nodes. To mitigate the different performances among the cluster nodes and to balance the load, we developed and implemented password candidate distribution scheme based on the passwords’ probability distribution, i.e. the order of appearance in the dictionary. We tested individual nodes and the cluster as a whole, trying different combinations of nodes and evaluating our distribution scheme for password candidates. We also compared our cluster with various GPU implementations in terms of performance, energy-efficiency, and price-efficiency. We show that our solution outperforms other platforms such as high-end GPUs, by a factor of at least 3 in terms of energy-efficiency and thus producing less overall cost of password attack than other platforms. In terms of the total operational costs, our cluster pays off after 4500 cracked passwords for a bcrypt hash with cost parameter 12, which makes it more appealing for real-world password-based system attacks. We also demonstrate the scalability of our cCc cluster.

    author = {Pervan, Branimir and Knezovi{\'{c}}, Josip and Guberovi{\'{c}}, Emanuel},
    doi = {10.1080/00051144.2022.2042115},
    journal = {Automatika},
    number = {3},
    pages = {399--417},
    publisher = {Taylor & Francis},
    title = ,
    url = {},
    volume = {63},
    year = {2022}