How a wall of 100 LAVA LAMPS is keeping the internet secure 

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  • Internet firm Cloudflare uses the lamps to create truly random numbers
  • 10% of iall web data passes through Cloudflare’s servers 
  • Video camera watches the lamps and analyses movement to create numbers
  • These are then used to create encryption keys that encode the firm’s data 

Mark Prigg For Dailymail.com

Visitors to internet firm Cloudflare’s San Francisco office are often impressed by the striking wall of 100 lava lamps that greets them.

However, the firm, which is responsible for the ‘internet address book’ data for 6 million websites, has revealed that in fact, they are a key part to how it keeps the internet secure.

The lamps are constantly recorded by a webcam, and the lava movement analysed to help the firm create truly random numbers to power its encryption software.

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Cloudflare's 'wall of entropy at it's San Francisco HQ. Posted by Martin Levy, the firm's network strategy head, the lava lamps are constantly recorded and the movement used to create truly random numbers to create encryption keys for its data.

Cloudflare's 'wall of entropy at it's San Francisco HQ. Posted by Martin Levy, the firm's network strategy head, the lava lamps are constantly recorded and the movement used to create truly random numbers to create encryption keys for its data.

Cloudflare’s ‘wall of entropy at it’s San Francisco HQ. Posted by Martin Levy, the firm’s network strategy head, the lava lamps are constantly recorded and the movement used to create truly random numbers to create encryption keys for its data.

HOW IT WORKS 

The wall of 100 lava lamps is constant recorded by a camera.

The lamps are constantly recorded by a webcam, and analysed to help the firm create truly random numbers to power its encryption software.

The images change based on a multitude of factors, including the movement of the lava, the inclusion of anyone who’s walking by, and even the shifting daylight – all of which helps the firm turn the data into random numbers.

Creating randomness is an essential part of encryption because it lets you create something that an attacker won’t be able replicate.

However, computers are actually very bad at coming up with random numbers, as they are designed to be precise.

This has led firms to look at outside methods to create randomness.

‘We videotape these lava lamps, take these pictures and turn it into a stream of random unpredictable byte,’ Nick Sullivan of Cloudflare told YouTuber Tom Scott, who visited the firm’s HQ.

‘This is what we use to create the keys that encyrpt the data that passes through our network.

‘This is not just a stunt, its feeding into our real systems.’ 

The company has also installed random number generators in its offices in London and Singapore

HOW SECURE IS IT? 

The flow of the ‘lava’ in a lava lamp is very unpredictable, and so the entropy in those lamps is incredibly high, Cloudflare says.

‘Even if we conservatively assume that the camera has a resolution of 100×100 pixels (of course it’s actually much higher) and that an attacker can guess the value of any pixel of that image to within one bit of precision (e.g., they know that a particular pixel has a red value of either 123 or 124, but they aren’t sure which it is), then the total amount of entropy produced by the image is 100x100x3 = 30,000 bits (the x3 is because each pixel comprises three values – a red, a green, and a blue channel).

‘This is orders of magnitude more entropy than we need.’

 

In London, the movement of dual pendulums is analysed using a similar camera system.

Visitors to the London office can also press a button and get a random number receipt that uses the outputs from the system to create a QR code, a maze, and a sudoku game.

In its Singapore office, a pellet of uranium encased in a glass bell jar has its radiation monitored using a geiger counter 

Other systems use the movement of the device in space using data from a smartphone’s accelerometer, mouse movement, or even the timing of a user pressing keys on a keyboard.

Cloudflare’s idea is based on a system first used at Sun Microsystems, who thought that lava lamps could help generate randomness since modeling how fluid moves within the lamps is incredibly difficult

Cloudflare calls it’s version the ‘Wall of Entropy.’

The wall of 100 lava lamps is constant recorded by a camera.

The lamps are constantly recorded by a webcam, and analysed to help the firm create truly random numbers to power its encryption software.

The images change based on a multitude of factors, including the movement of the lava, the inclusion of anyone who’s walking by, and even the shifting daylight – all of which helps the firm turn the data into random numbers.

The images change based on a multitude of factors, including the movement of the lava, the inclusion of anyone who's walking by, and even the shifting daylight – all of which helps the firm turn the data into random numbers.

The images change based on a multitude of factors, including the movement of the lava, the inclusion of anyone who's walking by, and even the shifting daylight – all of which helps the firm turn the data into random numbers.

The images change based on a multitude of factors, including the movement of the lava, the inclusion of anyone who’s walking by, and even the shifting daylight – all of which helps the firm turn the data into random numbers.

The flow of the ‘lava’ in a lava lamp is very unpredictable, and so the entropy in those lamps is incredibly high, Cloudflare says.

‘Even if we conservatively assume that the camera has a resolution of 100×100 pixels (of course it’s actually much higher) and that an attacker can guess the value of any pixel of that image to within one bit of precision (e.g., they know that a particular pixel has a red value of either 123 or 124, but they aren’t sure which it is), then the total amount of entropy produced by the image is 100x100x3 = 30,000 bits (the x3 is because each pixel comprises three values – a red, a green, and a blue channel).

‘This is orders of magnitude more entropy than we need.’

CLOUDFLARE’S OTHER SYSTEMS

The company has also installed random number generators in its offices in London and Singapore

In London, the movement of dual pendulums is analysed using a similar camera system.

Visitors to the London office can also press a button and get a random number receipt that uses the outputs from the system to create a QR code, a maze, and a sudoku game.

In its Singapore office, a pellet of uranium encased in a glass bell jar has its radiation monitored using a geiger counter