HOW A WALL OF LAVA LAMPS IS HELP­ING TO SE­CURE ELEC­TIONS

Focus-Science and Technology - - ELECTION HACKING -

Cloud­flare is us­ing lava lamps to cre­ate ran­dom num­bers for the cryp­tog­ra­phy that un­der­lies its elec­tion se­cu­rity of­fer­ing. “When you visit a web­site and a lock ap­pears on your browser, it’s there through a cryp­to­graphic process that ex­ists by be­ing able to gen­er­ate a ran­dom num­ber,” says Matthew Prince, the firm’s CEO and co-founder.

But com­put­ers are bad at the ‘ran­dom­ness’ im­por­tant in cryp­tog­ra­phy, he says. “If that num­ber is pre­dictable in some way, an at­tacker can un­der­mine the cryp­to­graphic sys­tem it­self.” To over­come this, Cloud­flare uses phys­i­cal so­lu­tions dou­bling as art in­stal­la­tions to gen­er­ate ran­dom num­bers.

In the San Francisco of­fice, the in­stal­la­tion is a wall of 100 lava lamps (be­low). “The move­ment of lava in the lamps is im­pos­si­ble to pre­dict – it’s a chaotic sys­tem,” says Prince. “We film the lava lamps and any pixel that changes can be used as a source of ran­dom­ness. We then feed this into the sys­tem gen­er­at­ing ran­dom keys for all of Cloud­flare’s net­work.”

In the Lon­don of­fice they use a dou­ble pen­du­lum. “Any­thing un­pre­dictable can be a good source of ran­dom­ness,” says Prince.

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