Solving the largest arithmetic problem: 28118384031601949668207954530684

Author: Staff writer

Notre Dame post-doc Christopher Monico is being credited with solving the largest arithmetic problem in history. That’s his answer above.

The problem was posed by Certicom, a company that makes information encryption software. Certicom challenged scientists, mathematicians (like Monico), cryptographers and hackers to try to break one of its encryption codes, termed an elliptic curve discrete logarithm.

To do so, Monico first announced on an online message board that he was going to try to crack the code and that he needed computing power. He eventually found more than 10,000 people willing to download software he devised to link the volunteers’ computers together and crunch numbers using the machine’s excess capacity. It still took 549 days for the army of computers to come up with the answer.

The contest included a prize of $10,000, but Monico announced in advance that if he won he would donate $8,000 to the Free Software Foundation and give two $1,000 prizes to two randomly selected people who volunteered their computers.

Rather than revealing the vulnerability of Certicom’s products, Monico’s answer actually validated them. The problem he solved involved cracking a code to identify a single person’s identity. The company’s full encryption products are about 100 million times more complicated, the company’s founder said.