£35,000 prize to crack 'PitBull'

Argos Systems reckons its security product will foil the hacking community, but will the very best actually enter?

A computer security firm announced Monday a $50,000 (about £35,000) prize to the first person who can crack its system protection package.

Argos Systems Group claims that a system running its PitBull product is virtually impenetrable. The contest -- known as OpenHack III -- is sponsored by eWeek magazine and gives hackers two weeks to crack a PitBull-protected system.

Hackers have been set four tasks, which when completed will prove that a Web site protected by PitBull has been corrupted. A prize will be awarded to the first team to solve each task, and the money goes to whoever is first to complete all four.

However, Argos is confident that PitBull -- which both it and many experts describe as the "Fort Knox" of computer security -- will not be broken. A hacker will often attempt to break into a system by targeting security holes in certain applications, but rather than attempting to patch these weaknessess PitBull protects the whole operating system.

Argos believes that this fact makes its money safe.

Offering cash prizes to the hacking community is a popular way for a company to show how secure, or insecure, its products are. Last September the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) payed out $5,000 each to two hackers who successfully hacked into its copyright protection technologies.

And, in April 2000, a group of French scientists and open source programmers claimed to have broken a 108-bit public encryption key. French cryptographic technology firm Certicom has offered a $10,000 prize fund to the successful code smasher.

However, some experts suggest that the best hackers don't enter these contests. "If you have the skills to break into a product that's secure, are you going to announce it to the world, or are you going to keep those skills to yourself?" said Jeff Moss, a hacker and security expert, to the Associated Press .

And, even if PitBull survives, Argos will acknowlege that the test isn't perfect. "Even if we survive the two weeks without breaches, we're not going to claim that the our system is fundamentally impenetrable," Randy Sandone, chief executive at Argos, said.

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