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January 17, 2004

Not Easy Being Green

I read an article this week in Network Magazine on Reversible Computing. The article can be found under "Tutorials" and is named "Get Mean, Go Green." [I read the print version]

One of the things that currently limits us when building bigger and faster computers is the amount of heat they give off. If you've looked inside your various computers through the years, you may have noticed a difference. My first P133 had a cpu and there was a fan inside the case. The next computer had a fan on top of the cpu. The one after that had a heat sink with a fan on top of it on top of the cpu. As the cpu got faster, it started to throw off more heat. That heat will toast a system (literally) and it doesn't take a computer scientist to recognize that heat is not a good thing for a computer. (Remember all those temperature controlled computer rooms in the 70s and 80s?)

Well...apparently there's quite a bit of research in the direction of reversible computing. "Reversible computers, or adiabatic systems, recycle their energy to give off extremely little heat, enabling computing power to continue growing where existing technology would falter." Apparently it's the DELETING of data that inevitably produces heat. So what they do is recycle data instead of deleting it.

That's great for processing power. That's not great for security. What the heck would you do with an old system or hard drive????? As it stands now, it's difficult to prepare a hard drive for disposal/discard. With the many un-delete and un-format programs out there, you have to use special software to write to the drive over and over to insure that the data is not easily recovered. Still, I'm sure that with enough patience, money, and the right software, the data still may actually be able to be recovered. It just makes the cost of the recovery more than the data is worth... And this is only with the current technology.

Imagine the time (probably in the not so distant future) where you upgrade to a new reversible computer. You sell your old computer to a used computer shop. You've done all you can to format over the data. You've used special software so that it's not generally recoverable. Mr. Hack goes into the store and buys one or two used computers. He has one of those reversible computers at home already. It's fast. It's very fast. Mr. Hack uses the computing power of his new computer to recover the data on the two older computers. Now he can use the information you stored about the credit card you used to buy himself a pallet of old computers and a few more of those really fast reversible computers. How do you protect yourself?

What about all the currently "unbreakable" encryption methods that would take millions of years with today's computers to crack? Will these faster computers be able to crack them in days or weeks? How will that affect SSL and e-commerce? Will people be hacked easier when buying online? How will the vendors protect themselves? Can they move fast enough to adapt to the changes in the realm of security? Can they keep you safe?

Now, I'm not saying that anyone should hold back progress. Not only is it futile, but it's not the best move. What I'm saying is that we need to realize that such wonderful progress should have its ramifications realized and similar progress should be sought to compensate. I'm sure (read: I hope) there are people out there working on those very things - better encryption, better e-commerce security, and enhanced privacy. Hopefully quantum computing will arrive at the same time (or after) quantum cryptography.

Posted by BlueWolf on January 17, 2004 11:51 PM