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How Lava Lamps Can Help Secure Your Data

From the hippie counterculture to college dorm rooms all over the world, the lava lamp has provided us with evolving eye candy for decades. To most, they're considered nothing more than novelties. But today's highly innovative minds have found a viable use for lava lamps after all – and it's probably the last thing you'd expect.

Advanced Encryption via Lava Lamps
You can see the iconic appliances in the lobby of Cloudflare's global headquarters in San Francisco. Here, no less than 100 lava lamps -- with various colors – are on display. But they're not sitting idly on the shelf. These lava lamps are actively working.

The IT team at Cloudflare recently uncovered a method to generate crytographic keys – used for encrypting sensitive data on the web – via lava lamps. By recording the movement of the fluid within the lava lamps, Cloudflare's servers convert these actions into raw, randomized data. The result is a completely unique and highly secure data packet containing unpredictable and truly random bits. It's nearly impossible to crack.

Nick Sullivan, head of cryptography with Cloudflare, spoke about the innovative method by saying: "True randomness is difficult to achieve in computers because computers are designed to be predictable. When a computer executes a program, it follows series of predetermined steps. To get truly random numbers, you have to involve the physical world. Most companies rely only on their computer’s operating system to provide randomness, which can sometimes lead to security issues like the recent ROCA vulnerability. It’s always best to mix in multiple sources of randomness."

According to a recent interview, the original idea for their unorthodox encryption method was conceived during the earliest phases of Cloudflare's development. Using a single lava lamp as their inspiration, the team soon scaled it up to 100 appliances. The result is nothing short of impressive, and it's all on display to anyone who wants to enter their facility.

Scaling it Up

The installation itself only consists of 100 lava lamps, but the system currently protects approximately 10% of all Internet traffic. While this is an enormous of data to encrypt, the system isn't entirely dependent on the material inside the lamp.

Because digital images always contain some amount of noise or graininess – especially at larger resolutions – their method is even more effective. Instead of generating an encryption key based solely on the movement of the material, it factors in the noise and graininess of the images, too.

Other Innovative Ideas

Dubbed the Entropy Wall, Cloudflare's San Francisco headquarters isn't the only building to showcase an innovative and unique form of encryption. Their London office utilizes a device known as the Chaotic Pendulum, which features three moving parts that twist and turn in various directions and configurations. In their Singapore location, the team relies on radioactive materials to produce true randomness.

Finding Out More

For more information about Cloudflare, including details on any of the products or services they offer, please visit their official website at {{|}}.


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