A team of mathematicians has set a new record for factoring a large number into primes, breaking a massive 307-digit number into its three indivisible factors and besting the previous mark by 30 digits. Written as a binary string of zeros and ones, the number is 1017 places or “bits” long–nearly as long as the 1024-bit numbers currently used to encode electronic messages–and the researchers’ method of using a network of computers raises the prospect of hijacking PC and video-game systems to try to crack codes. However, security experts say they’re confident they can stay ahead of would-be hackers.
In fact, Play Station 3 video-game systems, which are optimized for number crunching and typically connected to the Internet, could provide a useful resource for such chicanery. Kleinjung and his colleagues are now trying to get their hands on a substantial number of Play Stations. “We want to have thousands of them, or ten thousands, and see what analytic potential they may have,” says Lenstra.