White-hat hackers join Covid-control initiative

News by Chandu Gopalakrishnan

From computing speed to password crackers, white-hat hackers pitch in to do their bit to boost research to control Covid-19

Cyber-security professionals and white-hat hackers across the globe are flocking to join the supercomputing project Folding@home, initiated by computational biophysicist Greg Bowman, an associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

The project initially started as an initiative to harness the collective power of home computers used by volunteers to perform the complex calculations required to simulate protein dynamics in order to fight the spread of Covid-19.

“Volunteers from all over the world can install a software program that runs those calculations when a computer otherwise would sit idle,” wrote Julia Evangelou Strait, senior medical science writer at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

“Often motivated by personal experience with various diseases, the participants get to select an area of contribution, such as boosting cancer research, preventing Alzheimer’s disease or – now – fighting the novel coronavirus.”

Critical Start, one of the white-hat hacker teams that joined Folding@Home, lends its advanced password hash cracker named Cthulhu, said Quentin Rhoads, director of Professional Services at Critical Start.

There are more than two million participants across the world, from corporate sponsors such as Nvidea and Google to amateur researchers and computing experts. “All one needs to participate is a computer with a decent processor and/or graphics cards that can process these massive work units that can sometimes take a hour or longer to process,” Rhoads told SC Media UK.

Folding@Home sends work units (WUs) to each participant hourly which the participants then send the results back to folding@home so they can use it for their research. Dr Bowman tweeted on 20 March that the initiative has crossed over 470 petaFLOPS of compute power. “To put that in perspective, that's more than 2x the peak performance of the Summit super computer!”

Critical Start’s TeamARES hash cracker does its bit in simulating protein folding with a goal of better understanding viruses and illnesses such as COVID19 and how they react to different types of drugs in a hope to develop a cure, said Rhoads

“Currently we have processed over 800+ work units sent to us by Folding@Home putting us in the top two percent of all teams and donors.”

The collective is progressing with live updates and constant interactions, while participants are encouraging others in the information security and technology space to contribute as much as possible to help expedite the research, Rhoads added.

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