Technology

These are the Lava Lamps that Help Keep the Internet Secure. Seriously

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Random number generation plays a critical role in encryption, ensuring you have a strong key to help protect your data. The creation of such a purely arbitrary number is particularly challenging for computers, as the output is often based on a mathematical process using an obscure variable and not true random number generation. But lava lamps offer a unique solution.

As reported by Popular Mechanics, one San Francisco-based company has turned to a wall of lava lamps to help create truly random encryption keys.

Content delivery network Cloudflare uses the lamps to create unpredictable visual data that is then converted into a genuinely random number. The floating blobs don’t occur based on a prescribed pattern, ensuring that the wall doesn’t display predictable data. Then, that information is captured through a video feed, allowing a number to be created whenever it is needed.

While the solution seems complex, it overcomes the shortcomings typically found in random number generation software by taking advantage of data that naturally has a degree of uncertainty and unpredictability.

Ultimately, this makes their encryption keys more secure than those relying on a preprogrammed calculation, regardless of the obscure variable that is traditionally used by such systems, as all pattern-oriented computer systems are subject to a level of predictability and logic.

This means many random number generators can produce the same encryption key multiple times if the data used happens to be the same. Additionally, if the pattern can be predicted, people can use that information to break through the encryption.

According to Nick Sullivan, the head of cryptography at Cloudflare, “Cloudflare is a service that protects websites and web services and sort of sits in front of them as a gatekeeper. Somewhere around 10 percent of the web flows through Cloudflare’s network.”

“Cloudflare was one of the first companies to provide free SSL encryption for websites, so the connection between your web browser and the website you are going to is fully encrypted and invisible for eavesdroppers to be able to look at.”

The wall itself is somewhat of a visual marvel, as Cloudflare selected lava lamps that are the same size and all with silver-toned bases. However, they chose a range of colors, making it a bit of an aesthetic wonder.