Microsoft Windows Azure has launched a challenge for businesses and individuals to find new prime numbers.

Prime numbers are used in cryptography algorithms to create and secure online data transfers. The biggest known prime number is 17 million decimal digits long.

Steve Plank, computing and STEM evangelist at Microsoft, said: "The identification of new prime numbers is increasingly challenging, but possible for anyone.

"Forty per cent of the numbers between one and ten are prime but, as we progress up the number line, they taper off and become sparser. But in reality, as we get much further up the number line nobody really knows as nobody has ever searched for them all."

The Prime Challenge allows participants to use the computing power of Microsoft's data centres to find new prime numbers.

The challenge will run until 29 March 2014. Businesses, universities, schools and individuals can find out how to participate here.

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