Fluid Dynamics: How a Wall of Lava Lamps Helps Encrypt 10% of the Internet

Computers have a real problem when it comes generating truly
random numbers, which has led one web-critical cybersecurity
firm to reference an array of lava lamps to create unique
and unpredictable code.


The lamps are recorded on video in Cloudflare’s San Francisco
headquarters, then translate those movements to create
encryption keys for the web. The results help protect internet
giants including Uber, OKCupid, FitBit and others, totaling
around 10% of global traffic.

As Tom
Scott
reports, Cloudflare has good reason not to trust
algorithm-generated code, relying instead on the
effectively erratic movements in groovy retro fixtures set on
shelves instead. Anything made using algorithms could
potentially be guessed at or reverse-engineered by
sophisticated hackers — fluid dynamics of lava lamps, not so
much.


And these top-secret cryptographic devices are not hidden
behind lock and key, but publicly on view. In fact, additional
disturbances from human proximity can add more randomness to
the equation. In the end, it’s a surprisingly low-tech
solution, but it mixes things up and ultimately does the job.

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