Four Strange Ways Your Computer Data is Secured
Computer data can be protected by encrypting it. Through complex algorithms, your data is scrambled beyond recognition. The algorithms use an encryption key to determine how the data should be changed. A key is also needed to revert the encoded data and make it readable. To prevent hackers from predicting the encryption key, randomly generated numbers are used as the key. However, because computers operate strictly on preprogramed steps, they can’t randomly pick a number, so an outside source is used to provide them. By using nature as that source truly random data can be collected. True randomness may be found closer than you might expect.
In 1996 a computer company called Silicon Graphics patented Lavarand. Lavarand used lava lamps as a source of random data. By today the patent has expired and Lavarand is no longer operational, but a company called Cloudflare was inspired by them and uses a similar method. Their headquarters’ lobby in San Francisco is decorated by a wall of about a hundred lava lamps. A camera is trained on the wall and the filmed data is used for encryption. The traffic of employees, clients and visitors adds to the unpredictability of the collected footage.
Mads Haahr, the founder of random number generator site random.org was working with a few colleagues on an engine to run an online gambling game. They needed a cheap and convenient random number source so they went to a Radio Shack and bought the cheapest radio they had. They used the static noise (caused by atmospheric noise present everywhere in the air) to get random numbers for the project. The project was abandoned before it could launch but Haahr used the idea to set up random.org, which is still running today.
The world around us is full of random, unexpected noise. We most often tune it out, but a computer can use the noise to collect random data. However, if periodic sounds (like the spinning of a fan) sneak in we lose the randomness.
Keystrokes and mouse clicks
Compared to the speed at which modern computers process information, this method is rather slow. It is often used alongside another method for an added layer of protection. It uses the fact that people type at different speeds as well as hesitate and misspell to generate numbers. The same principle is used in the reCAPTCHA “I’m not a robot.” checkboxes.
These are just a few of the many ways that computer scientists have discovered and developed in order to collect random data to aid our security. Maybe this article will encourage you to appreciate not only the beauty of patterns but also the true randomness in the world around us.
Written by Tija Vrček