Thomas Tavoly
The founder and webmaster of the Amiga RC5 Team
July 1999

The Amiga RC5 Team

Roberto: Hi Thomas, you are the founder and web maintainer of the Amiga RC5 Team, surely you are the most qualified person to explain to us what the RC5 Contest actually consists of. Would you do that?
Thomas: First of all I would like to mention that without the participants, the Amiga community and all the people who have helped in various ways this wouldn't have taken off as it has. The Amiga RC5 Team effort is a community effort to prove amongst others that the Amiga (community) is still a force to be reckoned with, and expose the weaknesses in current encryption policies by cracking 'strong' encryption using otherwise idle computer time.

We do this by participating as a team in the non-profit Distributed Net effort which is at the moment the only contestant for the US$ 10,000 prize US security firm RSA Labs have offered for finding the key to a secret message encrypted using the RC5-64 algorithm. For comparison, NetScape et al are only allowed to use a much weaker 40 bit key for secure transmissions, which Distributed Net could crack in a matter of seconds.

Part of the appeal of the Distributed Net effort comes from a ranking system based on the amount of work done by individuals as well as members of a team, and of course part of the prize money you can win. For us, ranking high as a team means exposure for the Amiga.

Every member of the team runs a client program which runs at a low priority in the background (using only idle time so daily work isn't impacted), fetches blocks of keys from a network of servers and searches them in a brute force approach for possible hits, then uploads the results for tabulation. The more computers participate the more work is done and the higher our ranking. Members are encouraged to use at least one Amiga for this, but other platforms are welcome too.

Roberto: Within the contest there are teams fighting to get to an higher position in the "Top 100" chart. How and why did you decide to create an Amiga Team, too?
Thomas: I have been mildly interested in encryption for some time and followed the original DESChall and then the D.Net contests with some interest until an Amiga client appeared, then out of curiosity asked around on IRC who else was running it. As it turned out some others also thought it would be cool to throw together a team and I volunteered to put up a webpage and see if we could get some others to join an Amiga team. So it pretty much started as a cool thing, something fun to do under an Amiga heading. After a while the effort got more serious as more and more people joined and a lot of work went into making the webpages attractive, adding a member list, statistics and starting a mailinglist, while we shot up in the ranks.

Also, since D.Net is mainly interested in exploring distributed computing, they are working towards a model which will eventually become open source and allow basically anything that requires large amounts of CPU power to be 'plugged-in' using whatever networked machines are available. Currently only a client doing RC5 and intermittent DES challenges (another widely used encryption standard) is available, but soon others will be added. For example distributed chess and various mathematical problems could be researched this way, or rendering a movie, perhaps even helping scientists research DNA for combating diseases. Along similar lines, we are moving towards more than just concluding the finite RC5 effort and would like to explore such possibilities under the 'Distributed Amiga' heading. I don't know how this will evolve yet, we will see.

The success of the Amiga RC5 Team

Roberto: The Amiga RC5 team is doing a pretty good job, ranked sixth among thousands of groups. How come we are so fast, expecially when compared to other "advocacy" teams which surely can count on a much larger user base? Maybe Amigans are more informed, or more computer-literate (on average) so that they are more likely to take part in such a contest, whose motivations are not so clear at first sight. Or maybe they are simply more unite. What is your opionion about that?
Thomas: I think it's definitely the cohesion in the Amiga community. The actual Amigas participating are forming a very small minority amongst the predominantly Windows and Linux masses (about one percent maybe), but since most of them are fragmented in their own smaller teams we as a single entity can make better headway with 'lesser' means.
Roberto: Looking at daily stats it seems we are gaining fast on the team ranked fifth, and we also become faster and faster. Why? Is more people joining the team, or more people is switching to PPC-equipped Amigas? Or maybe people [are] simply bringing more PCs into our team? What are middle- and long-term perspectives, in your opinion?
Thomas: The team started out with only a 68k client and this is a typical use where raw processing power counts most, not elegance of the OS, so the steadily growing users with PPC equipped Amigas after a PPC client was introduced indeed made a visible impact on our progress. Aside from that many Amiga users are typically equipped with both an Amiga and a 'workhorse' PC, sometimes more than one, including machines at work. It's worth noting that the actual theoretical power contributed by Amigas is about 40% of the total, so the fast PPCs even out the balance quite well. And lastly, the team is still growing in size as well. We hope to see 2000 members by the end of the year. Who knows what Amiga's plans are bringing, maybe a new machine will arrive soon, not to mention OS 3.5 and G3 cards, these could give us another sizeable boost, and more members if the platform rises from it's ashes again. We may also see members leaving the Amiga altogether if nothing happens. So on the short term I would say we are growing slowly but steadily, on the long term.. Who knows. Two more weeks?
Roberto: Do other teams grow faster as much as we do? Maybe if they improve better then us some of them might catch us in the end.
Thomas: At the moment no other team is growing faster than we do on average, although in the past year there were examples of teams suddenly gaining interest, one of which has passed us. I can't say that noone else will catch us, but we have a sizeable lead on the closest teams, and are ourselves gaining on both numbers 5 and 4.

Other efforts: the SETI

Roberto: There have been some discussion lately about taking part in some other similar effort, such as SETI. What do you think Amigans should do for better exposure? Can you please say some word of explanation about SETI, too?
Thomas: SETI is short for Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence. The basic idea is the same as for RC5: you have a lot of data and use networked computers to divide up a problem and search for an answer by brute force. The differences are that RC5 is an exactly quantifiable problem with a known single solution that will be found in an uncertain amount of time, whereas SETI is a search in a more or less defined region of the sky and electromagnetic bandwidth with an uncertain outcome, but for a known amount of time (2 years). Also D.Net is a non-profit organization made up of volunteers with both political and technological motives where SETI consists of corporate sponsored research scientists with scientific and monetary interests. Of course SETI gets more attention since it's a sexy project for the media, but Distributed Net's developments will impact our daily lives much more, both on a technological and political level, since the likelihood of SETI finding anything in their limited search is next to nil, even though the likelihood of ETI existence as such is quite large.

For now, RC5 is the best vehicle for Amiga exposure and the intermittent DES challenges (which last time lasted only 22 hours!). Even though SETI is wildly popular their infrastructure isn't evolved yet to a point where we could make an impact as well as under the D.Net umbrella, not to mention no Amiga client being available as of this writing. Also the SETI is more resource hungry and may not be suited for the average Amiga (takes 15 MB of memory) and in its current implementation isn't multitasking friendly. We could of course en masse switch over with all the other machines, but then we would split power and fall in the RC5 rankings. But apart from these practical consideration, yes, it is planned to do much more than just RC5 in the future, especially since this particular contest could end any day when the key is found. Another thing to note is that the RC5 effort was previously little known to the general populace, but since SETI is appealing to most people's imagination it brings attention from the general media not just to itself but also to similar efforts.

As computers and even appliances get more and more networked this interest will only increase. That could mean that if the Amiga stagnates any further it will be drowned out eventually, but it could also mean that a lot more people see us up there and get interested, or indeed if the next generation Amiga is suitably equipped for this kind of networking it may prove the popular choice for such efforts.

How to contribute

Roberto: After your interesting answers some of our readers might want to join the Amiga RC5 Team. Can anybody participate or are you accepting only users with fast Amigas?
Thomas: Anyone can join as long as they have a 68020 or better equipped Amiga, since that is what the current client runs on. In fact, it is encouraged that you enter with any machine you have, no matter how slow, since all those bits are counting up to what we do now, and of course you never know, your machine just might find the right key.
Roberto: Our interested readers will have to download and install the client. Is that difficult? Could you suggest them some URLs to look at for help or more information about the contest and the Amiga Team?
Thomas: The principle is quite simple and with the help of the Myzar GUI its maintenance is easy too, but there are a lot of options and things a novice user can stumble on when setting up, so it's wise to read the fine manual :) Of course if anyone has any questions there is ample help available both on the webpages and on the mailing list, and in E-mail.

The effort homepage: (has links to the download section, usage and installation info, basically everything you need to know and more).

If the webpages do not answer your questions you can mail or join the mailinglist (details on how to join the effort and list are also available on the homepage).

About Thomas

Roberto: Thomas, now I'm due to inform you that our readers are very curious. They surely now wish to know something more about you. When did you buy your first Amiga? What is your current HW configuration, and what do you use your Amiga for? Also, feel free to tell us whatever you want about your other interests and hobbies, and basically whatever comes to your mind.
Thomas: I wanted an Amiga since I first saw the reviews in 1986 or so and finally could afford an A500 in 1988. My current Amiga 4000 is equipped with a CyberStorm MkII 060/50, 64 MB RAM, 3.5 GB HD, CV64/3D and a 17" monitor, plus some other goodies like an Ariadne Ethernet card and the HyperCOM 4 serial card. Current uses include communication (E-mail/WWW/IRC, runs two mailinglists), productivity (PhotoShop/QuarkXPress under ShapeShifter, various webpage projects), gaming (Doom, Heretic, and of course FreeCIV), programming (well, ARexx) and others. Apart from the Amiga I like the heavier metal, pretend to play electric guitar, love pizza, swimming, holidays in Hungary and sunny weather in general. I'm 28, single, have occupied myself with various IT jobs in the past 5 years ranging from programmer to webmaster and will probably continue to do so in the future, unless I grow tired of it.

The Amiga situation

Roberto: And finally, the inevitable question: what is your opinion about current Amiga situation? Can we hope for a brighter future?
Thomas: We can always hope of course, and if you need to ask what the current situation is, well, it's not good :) I do believe that when handled properly, the Amiga philosophy, if not the Amiga as we know it now, can be very successful, but it will take time, hard work and probably some more hurt before all is said and done.
Roberto: Thank you very much for your time, Thomas, happy cracking and long live the Amiga!

Roberto Patriarca

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