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Physicist Uses Laser Light As Fast, True-Random Number Generator

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the everything-is-better-with-lasers dept.

Encryption 326

MrKevvy writes "An Ottawa physicist is using laser light to create truly random numbers much faster than other methods do, with obvious potential benefits to cryptography: 'Sussman's Ottawa lab uses a pulse of laser light that lasts a few trillionths of a second. His team shines it at a diamond. The light goes in and comes out again, but along the way, it changes. ... It is changed because it has interacted with quantum vacuum fluctuations, the microscopic flickering of the amount of energy in a point in space. ... What happens to the light is unknown — and unknowable. Sussman's lab can measure the pulses of laser light that emerge from this mysterious transformation, and the measurements are random in a way that nothing in our ordinary surroundings is. Those measurements are his random numbers.'"

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326 comments

Finally a reason for socially inept people to buy. (4, Funny)

ErikPeterson (912282) | more than 2 years ago | (#38207710)

Finally a reason for socially inept people to buy diamonds!

Re:Finally a reason for socially inept people to b (4, Funny)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 2 years ago | (#38207874)

Finally a reason for socially inept people to buy diamonds!

I dunno about that. Diamond video cards were okay.

Re:Finally a reason for socially inept people to b (0)

CODiNE (27417) | more than 2 years ago | (#38208142)

Oh yeah baby... back with my VLB Diamond Viper 4MB of VRAM... and a 486DX-2 66 with 16MB I was styling'. The chicks just couldn't stay away.

Re:Finally a reason for socially inept people to b (3, Informative)

kelemvor4 (1980226) | more than 2 years ago | (#38208228)

Oh yeah baby... back with my VLB Diamond Viper 4MB of VRAM... and a 486DX-2 66 with 16MB I was styling'. The chicks just couldn't stay away.

You must have been rolling in the dough back then to have 16MB ram. 8MB about broke my bank.

Industrial grade diamonds are cheap (2)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 2 years ago | (#38208176)

Finally a reason for socially inept people to buy diamonds!

Industrial grade diamonds are cheap. They are already found in various consumer gadgets that geeks may already have. :-)

"Truly random numbers" (0)

Ossifer (703813) | more than 2 years ago | (#38207712)

I don't believe such a thing can possibly exist.

Re:"Truly random numbers" (4, Funny)

ABadDog (28370) | more than 2 years ago | (#38207730)

I don't believe such a thing can possibly exist.

Of course they can. Here: 7, 3. I've just given you two *totally* random numbers.

Re:"Truly random numbers" (2)

Eponymous Hero (2090636) | more than 2 years ago | (#38207812)

conservation of information would say that if we could measure and analyze your subconscious, your experiences, your neural connections to a high enough degree that we could uncover the reasoning for your random number picks, and probably even predict the next "random" numbers you come up with.

Re:"Truly random numbers" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38207824)

woosh.

Re:"Truly random numbers" (3, Informative)

medv4380 (1604309) | more than 2 years ago | (#38208010)

Incorrectly applying the conservation of information. What you are saying wouldn't work and would violate the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. What would happen is as you did the measurements to that degree you would lose information on the motion of the particles involved as you gained the new information on the position hence the conservation of information. The uncertainty of the choices would still exist and you'd most likely get two different results if his choice had any quantum affects involved.

Re:"Truly random numbers" (3, Insightful)

kikito (971480) | more than 2 years ago | (#38208048)

A Heiselber's Uncertainty Principle attacks!

It says "hello"!

It is very effective!

Re:"Truly random numbers" (5, Funny)

LoyalOpposition (168041) | more than 2 years ago | (#38208024)

Of course they can. Here: 7, 3. I've just given you two *totally* random numbers.

Nope. And I can prove it. Both of your numbers were between 0 and 9, inclusive. Counting only integers that makes ten possibilities. Now, between 10 and 999, inclusive, there are nine hundred ninety possibilities. Since random numbers are equally likely that means that it is ninety-nine times more likely for a random number to be between 10 and 999, inclusive, than it is for them to be between 0 and 9, inclusive. Successive probabilities multiply, so the likelihood that two numbers chosen at random will be between 10 and 999 inclusive are 8991 times more likely than that they will be between 0 and 9, inclusive. The only reasonable conclusion is that 7 and 3 are not random numbers.

~Loyal

p.s. I think if you search the literature you'll find that 3 is, in fact, a random number. Therefore you problem lies with the 7.

Re:"Truly random numbers" (2)

aintnostranger (1811098) | more than 2 years ago | (#38208094)

how is the likeness of the numbers showing up making them less random? 7, 3 is as random as 494592349943, 2.5

Re:"Truly random numbers" (1)

Lord_Naikon (1837226) | more than 2 years ago | (#38208164)

So they don't pass your statistical test. That doesn't prove they aren't random. What if he only gave numbers between 0-9? What if the distribution of his numbers is not uniform?

Re:"Truly random numbers" (3, Interesting)

izomiac (815208) | more than 2 years ago | (#38208204)

Wow, for one integer to be picked is infinitely rare, but two?!?! And both positive primes near zero... Wait a tic... those have all the markings of a psychologically random number! Sadly, it's impossible to say that's how they were selected, as they're just as likely to occur as anything else from a uniformly distributed random number generator over all possible numbers. Only Laplace's demon knows for sure...

Re:"Truly random numbers" (2)

whoisisis (1225718) | more than 2 years ago | (#38207770)

Well, something has to explain what we observe in the lab.
So far, quantum physics is the only successful theory.

Re:"Truly random numbers" (2)

Surt (22457) | more than 2 years ago | (#38207814)

Well, there are things about the universe for which we have no explanation other than 'it's random'. Stuff where the internal state, if any, is hidden from us in pretty fundamental ways. If your opponent has to surround your laser experiment with a jupiter scale atom smasher in order to determine what you're going to get, that's pretty securely random.

Re:"Truly random numbers" (5, Interesting)

Ossifer (703813) | more than 2 years ago | (#38207916)

That's the point though--just because we don't have an explanation doesn't make it random--it may be apparently random, but that irks me in the same way that people drop off the "known-" or "observable-" in front of "universe".

Also "securely random" implies an application for which these "apparently random" numbers are "good enough"...

Re:"Truly random numbers" (5, Insightful)

NoOneInParticular (221808) | more than 2 years ago | (#38208058)

That was what Einstein thought. So he set up a thought experiment to prove that quantum was only apparently random, called the Einstein-Rosen-Podolsky paradox. Turned out, after Aspect ran the experiment, that Einstein was wrong. Reality was more random than he thought. It still might be the case that there's an order behind the quantum randomness, but that's currently more an article of faith than scientific insight.

Re:"Truly random numbers" (2)

Ossifer (703813) | more than 2 years ago | (#38208154)

Indeed, and that's why I described it as a "belief" of mine, and not a fact.

Re:"Truly random numbers" (4, Interesting)

NoOneInParticular (221808) | more than 2 years ago | (#38208432)

Okay, fair enough. Is there any basis for this belief other than that you like it to be the case that the universe is deterministic? I sometimes like the universe to be a lollypop. It seldomly is. I'm saying this just to be an ass I guess, but still: why would this belief of yours be valuable, if it is backed by fact nor theory? Many people like to believe that a supreme being exists that wants to be friends with them. Is your belief in that category, or is there more to it?

Re:"Truly random numbers" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38208160)

Well, if you run that experiment for half an hour and put it all in a graph, I'm sure you'll get a pattern.

If you find something random, it simply means you need more data.

Re:"Truly random numbers" (3, Informative)

Baloroth (2370816) | more than 2 years ago | (#38208078)

The term "random" is generally (even in science, from what I know of it) taken to refer to things which we are not able to predict, even theoretically. We do not, however, know for sure if the system is non-deterministic (that is, truly random) or only apparently so.

Again, not a quantum physicist. But I believe that is the general state of affairs. See Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] for more.

Re:"Truly random numbers" (2)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#38208136)

While there are other random number generators, by far and away the most common "random number generator" is the Linear congruential generator [wikipedia.org] .... the typical one that is used for most video games due to the fact that it can be configured using only integer-based arithmetic operations (no need for floating point overhead). That makes the generator extremely fast, but unfortunately predictable. Sadly, lousy constants are usually picked with many operating system vendors or compiler writers which make this rather poor generator even worse.

The problem is that the very non-random nature of the generator can show up when you are using it for very precise calculations or for something that doesn't take into the fact that the LCG algorithm really is just a simply line slope formula applied in an unusual context and with some constraints. There is certainly a need for better algorithms to generate numbers that avoid these problems, and if you can get these numbers from nature it makes the issue even better.

Still, I agree with the grandparent post that the physical phenomena being used is going to be influencing the results of the number generator in some fashion.... it will just be more disguised. In the past census data was used to generate "random number tables", which also has drawbacks of its own.

Re:"Truly random numbers" (2)

Surt (22457) | more than 2 years ago | (#38208408)

I think basically everyone in the gaming biz is now using MT, which is a very good PRNG.

Re:"Truly random numbers" (2)

Surt (22457) | more than 2 years ago | (#38208388)

Random number generation is used in applied cryptography. That's the application for which it is useful to have a source of random numbers that can't be guessed by a sufficiently well funded opponent. In this case, it might be literally impossible for any opponent to be well-funded enough to defeat this.

Re:"Truly random numbers" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38207820)

Numbers aren't random, but the values they represent might be.

Belief is a funny thing (1)

medv4380 (1604309) | more than 2 years ago | (#38207826)

If you can disprove the uncertainty principal and put determinism back at center stage go ahead. I've yet to see any definitive rebuke of it as much as Einstein would have loved it to just go away.

The Old One Doesn't Play Dice

Since this is a random number generator deriving random number off of the uncertainty principal all I want to know is where can I get one.

Re:"Truly random numbers" (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38207970)

I don't believe such a thing can possibly exist.

Reality doesn't care what you believe (and hates to be anthropomorphized).

Re:"Truly random numbers" (1)

thisnamestoolong (1584383) | more than 2 years ago | (#38208158)

You can believe what you want, but it doesn't change the way the Universe works. Sure, we may find out that the roots of uncertainty lie only in our ignorance, but it does not seem likely that that is the case. I mean, Einstein spent a good chunk of his life trying to prove your hypothesis, as he did not like the idea of uncertainty and randomness, but he only ended up massively proving quantum mechanics.

Re:"Truly random numbers" (1)

Ossifer (703813) | more than 2 years ago | (#38208300)

> You can believe what you want, but it doesn't change the way the Universe works.

Fine by me -- let me know when you have complete and total understanding of the entire universe...

Time and time again scientists have stated "this is as deep as it goes!" only to be proven incorrect later on...

Re:"Truly random numbers" (1)

thisnamestoolong (1584383) | more than 2 years ago | (#38208416)

We don't have a complete and total understanding of the Universe, but that doesn't make fairies any more likely to be real. More importantly, I think that the burden of proof ought to be on those that are making a claim contrary to our current understanding; you need to prove that there is an underlying order to the Universe. Right now, that doesn't seem to be the case. I would absolutely be open to evidence that suggests that our current understanding is mistaken, but until we see it, it is just empty speculation.

Classical vs Quantum (1)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 2 years ago | (#38208226)

"Truly random numbers". I don't believe such a thing can possibly exist.

It is far easier to believe when you are dealing with quantum physics rather than classical physics.

Re:Classical vs Quantum (1)

Ossifer (703813) | more than 2 years ago | (#38208362)

I would argue that quantum physics is the embodiment of exactly the opposite belief to that which I hold...

Re:"Truly random numbers" (2)

SpazmodeusG (1334705) | more than 2 years ago | (#38208418)

Really? No randomness? What if the universe conspired to make it completely impossible for us mere mortals to ever predict a number? This is what quantum physics tells us is happening.

As an example of an impossible to predict situation the universe made two copies of itself at a point where you choose a direction to turn (a simplification of the many-worlds hypothesis). One copy is where you make the decision to turn left and one where you make a decision to turn right. Just before the copy was made how would you have predicted which way you would have turned? No matter what prediction you make you'll be wrong in one of those universes. It's impossible to predict.

Quantum physics is impossible to predict. No amount of hidden variables can explain Bell inequalities. The only thing physicists are looking for now is an explanation of why it's impossible to predict. The many-worlds hypothesis is one such explanation.

Re:"Truly random numbers" (1)

korgitser (1809018) | more than 2 years ago | (#38208430)

Of course such thing can not exist, if you are to mean 100% certain by 'true'. But nothing for the human being is 100% certain, for we gather knowledge by observation and induction, both of which have their limits. Then it makes sense to rethink what is the purpose of the word 'true'. Something in the lines of 'beyond reasonable doubt, YMMV'.

And the numbers are... (5, Funny)

waynemcdougall (631415) | more than 2 years ago | (#38207718)

9 9 9 9 9 9 9 9 9 ....

You don't KNOW it's not random...

Re:And the numbers are... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38207746)

Reminds me of this joke:

//was produced with the roll of a fair die,
//and is thus truly random.
int true_random(void) { return 4; }

You should have said (3, Informative)

MurukeshM (1901690) | more than 2 years ago | (#38207802)

Obligatory xkcd: http://xkcd.com/221/ [xkcd.com]

Re:You should have said (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38207914)

Sigh. You kids who can't remember 10 years ago [kodyaz.com] .

Re:You should have said (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38208422)

Herman Cain has come far in just 10 years.

Re:And the numbers are... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38207818)

Might not be, but the rest of what Herman Cain says seems to be random.

Re:And the numbers are... (2)

epine (68316) | more than 2 years ago | (#38207868)

Actually, we do know it's not random, within a very small margin of dithering. Given any chosen universal computer (one with an extremely small definition is best), if a sequence can be printed by a program whose length is less than the sequence, the sequence is not random.

There is a small dependence on which universal machine you pick at the outset, but any two universal machines will never disagree on the length of the shortest program required by more than the shortest program by which one machine simulates the other.

print nine nine times
print nine ninety times

If the first case is dubious, the second isn't.

Sussman's comment about perfect encryption cracks me up: as if what the world needs most is a really high quality one time pad.

Re:And the numbers are... (1)

billcarson (2438218) | more than 2 years ago | (#38208162)

I know you are joking, but look up the mathematical concept `Almost sure'.

Re:And the numbers are... (1)

martas (1439879) | more than 2 years ago | (#38208360)

Doesn't apply; in measure theory "almost sure" means "holds except for a measurable set of measure zero". The sequence "9 9 9 9 9 9 9 9 9", even repeated infinitely, has exactly the same measure as, say, any other sequence of numbers 1-100 generated i.i.d. uniformly (roughly speaking -- the infinite sequences all have measure zero, so the statement must either be made "in the limit", or some other way).

That was a terrible article (1)

Scutter (18425) | more than 2 years ago | (#38207754)

There. I said it.

They lost me at "microscopic energy".

Re:That was a terrible article (1)

cababunga (1195153) | more than 2 years ago | (#38208346)

That's because you are not concentrating in important things. They use laser! Anything done with a laser has to be awesome. And combine that with diamonds... Lasers and diamonds!! But that's not all. There is also "laser light that emerge from this mysterious transformation". Lasers, diamonds and mystery. What not to like?

I thought... (1)

Synerg1y (2169962) | more than 2 years ago | (#38207766)

A diamond bends light (a laser in this case) via reflection rather than quantum vacuum fluctuations? Maybe I'm missing something...

Anyways, I find hardware based cryptography much more scalable and attainable than tfa.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hardware_random_number_generator [wikipedia.org]

Also, I've never heard of a hacker trying to reverse engineer an encryption algorithm to break into a system, 0 day IIS exploits on the other hand...

A man in the middle attack (4, Funny)

stanlyb (1839382) | more than 2 years ago | (#38207778)

I mean, what about a diamond in the middle attack? If you manage to replace it with well known and tweaked diamond, with known quantum effect (you see, i could use funny words too), then all the systems would be jeopardized.

Re:A man in the middle attack (1)

martas (1439879) | more than 2 years ago | (#38208398)

Absolutely true -- if you replace the diamond with one that produces numbers following some other distribution than the original, even if it's slightly different, that could introduce a massive vulnerability for a dedicated attacker to exploit. The same holds without the attacker needing to replace anything, if he has a slightly better estimate of the distribution that the random number generator follows than the creator of the system (e.g. if the person using it thinks they're getting 0/1 with exactly 0.5 probability, but the attacker knows it's actually closer to 0.5000001).

10-sided die anyone? (1)

Lashat (1041424) | more than 2 years ago | (#38207782)

Random enough for me. Truly.

Re:10-sided die anyone? (1)

gman003 (1693318) | more than 2 years ago | (#38207912)

I keep a set of standard gaming dice at my desk in case I need quick random numbers. d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, d20. Also a coin, which I jokingly call a d2.

And also in case a spontaneous game of DnD erupts.

Well, (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38207798)

Light goes in, light comes out. You can't explain that.

already done... (5, Funny)

stating_the_obvious (1340413) | more than 2 years ago | (#38207806)

I just use the rand() function in Excel. Way less hassle than firing a laser through a diamond...

Re:already done... (4, Funny)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 2 years ago | (#38207832)

... only random if you are measuring whether Excel crashes or not when you do it.

Re:already done... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38207964)

Okay, I'll bite.... In what way do you think that Excel is a poor product? Stability is definitely not one of it's weaknesses and there's very little else out there that competes with it.

Re:already done... (1)

LordLucless (582312) | more than 2 years ago | (#38208436)

While GoogleDocs version lacks a lot of features Excel provides, it's FILTER function, and it's ability to process whole columns, as opposed to just ranges, makes certain operations so much more elegant, extensible and maintainable. While nowhere near close in a head-on, feature-for-feature comparison, there are certainly use-cases where Google's version is more useful than Excel.

but not as much fun (1)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 2 years ago | (#38208262)

I just use the rand() function in Excel. Way less hassle than firing a laser through a diamond...

But not nearly as much fun. :-)

Nonsense (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38207862)

"the measurements are random in a way that nothing in our ordinary surroundings is"

Nonsense. They are random in precisely the same way that a good bouncy roll of the dice are. They are random in precisely the same way that a temperature measurement of a cup full of boiling water 10 seconds after it is poured is. They are random in precisely the same way that the sound coming out of a piezoelectric microphone taped to a car window travelling at 60 MPH is. They are random in precisely the same way that the noise of a reverse-biased silicon junction is.

Perhaps the author meant to say "the measurements are random in a way that no pseudorandom number generator algorithm is."

Re:Nonsense (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38208324)

How random is that temperature measurement if you are able to predict it, and upon repetition, gain the same result?

Bouncy dice not competitive (2)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 2 years ago | (#38208358)

"the measurements are random in a way that nothing in our ordinary surroundings is"

Nonsense. They are random in precisely the same way that a good bouncy roll of the dice are.

No. The bouncy dice are describable by classical physics. Our inability to predict is based upon our imprecise understanding of the path of the dice, their rotation, air density and movement, the geometry of the area landing in and bouncing about in, the understanding of the materials of the dice and objects it is bouncing against, etc.

In contrast this new method utilizes effects of quantum physics. That is inherently far less measurable and predictable.

Re:Nonsense (1)

Lord_Naikon (1837226) | more than 2 years ago | (#38208412)

I find your examples weak. Dice can be accurately predicted and are in no way random. Digitized sound noise sources are also not very random in my experience, even after eliminating bias. The cup of water measurement randomness depends on the accuracy you measure it with and is hardly a practical source of randomness.

The author meant to say that "the measurements are random in a way that they are in no way predictable, unlike our ordinary surroundings".

Carefull..... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38207864)

This guy better be real careful with his analysis..... A lot of things you'd think are not correlated actually are. For instance, the intensity of starlight arriving at two separated telescopes has been found to be quite correlated!

I also wonder if he's pushing the principle of induction a bit far.... He may find the light is random, but what if a cosmic ray goes through the diamond and all the atoms go Boooonnnnngggg! in resonance together, won't that mess up his perfect randomness? I don't see much use for a random generator that might randomly spazz out into putting out patterns.

Re:Carefull..... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38208144)

Not sure if trolling. Unfortunately, a lot of people believe this to be how "random" works, so even if you're trolling, I feel it's necessary to comment. The only thing that we care about when making a random number generator is that no one can predict the results; what those results are, and whether we can find a "pattern" in them after the fact, is irrelevant. If a random number generator happens to spit out "1 2 3 4 5 6 5 4 3 2 1", that doesn't mean it's a bad RNG, so long as it's impossible for you to predict *when* it will do that, even in the middle of the pattern - for example, if you get "1 2 3 4", if you can't predict whether it will continue with "5" or go somewhere else entirely.

Hence, "randomly spazz out into putting out patterns" is perfectly fine so long as you can't tell whether you're in a "pattern" or not until after the fact.

Skip the newspaper article... (5, Informative)

Vario (120611) | more than 2 years ago | (#38207878)

The newspaper article is not giving any information that is not already included in the summary.

The paper is published in Optics Express, the abstract can be read here [opticsinfobase.org] . The full article is behind a paywall unfortunately. The author claim that this concept could deliver random numbers at a rate of 100 GHz which is quite fast compared to other true random number generators out there that are based on thermal noise, radiation or other processes.

Simtec "Entropy Key" also does quantum RNG (4, Interesting)

AceJohnny (253840) | more than 2 years ago | (#38207918)

A while back, the Simtec Entropy Key [entropykey.co.uk] was making the rounds among Debian Devs, and claims to be exploiting quantum effects in the P-N junctions to be a true RNG.

They seem serious and I tend to trust paranoid Debian developers' opinions [entropykey.co.uk] , but ultimately I don't have enough knowledge myself to make a confident judgment call. I'd be curious about more opinions.

Re:Simtec "Entropy Key" also does quantum RNG (4, Informative)

evanbd (210358) | more than 2 years ago | (#38208114)

You can also use resistor noise [wikipedia.org] , a good amplifier, and an ADC to make moderately high bandwidth true quantum RNG. I priced out a simple design with a microcontroller on a USB key footprint; looked like $50-100 in prototype quantities, less in large quantities, for 10 KB/s output (or so). Getting the entropy is looked like the easy part; it then needed a fair bit of CPU power (by microcontroller standards) to hash that into usable bits.

You can also (with a lot more software work, and low bitrates) use the resistor noise present in audio input channels to good effect. Turbid [av8n.com] is a project that does just that. Note that when evaluating such projects, the hard part is not getting the numbers, but proving that they have enough entropy, and that they've been properly processed to preserve it. Turbid does an excellent job on this important documentation step.

Re:Simtec "Entropy Key" also does quantum RNG (5, Interesting)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#38208198)

claims to be exploiting quantum effects in the P-N junctions to be a true RNG

Thats a wee bit of the wordy mumbo jumbo, like talking about the "maxwellian equation emitter controlled by polarization rotation human interface unit" I'm using to read this, instead of calling it a freaking monitor. Just call it a zener diode and be done with it. The Zener story is bizarre and this doesn't help. Clarence M. Zener came up with the theory for his diodes in the 30s, although they couldn't be built until the 50s when they thought it would be cool to name the diode after him, or maybe his physics equation, or both. Strange but true fact is that a "zener" diode operating below 5 volts uses the actual physics Zener effect and a "zener" diode operating above 5 volts uses the physics avalanche effect, which the Entropy Key claims to use.

Note that USB does not provide more than 5 volts and a reasonable current limiter means its gonna be operating well into zener-land.

So, A dude named Zener, invented Zener physics, leading to the theory of zener diodes, then someone else built one 20 years later and named it after him, and the key markets itself as using the closely related avalanche effect, but because only 5 volts is available without some sort of voltage multiplier or boost switching regulator, its probably actually using the low voltage Zener effect, regardless of the effect, devices using avalanche or zener effect are always marketed as zener diodes commercially, so I'm sure there is a Zener on the board. Which doesn't matter in the end, because zener noise is just as good as avalanche noise for crypto, as far as I know. In fact zener is probably better, less temperature dependence. Talk about abuse of proper nouns and trademarks... kinda like my Xerox machine at home was manufactured by Brother.

This stuff is all from memory, I hope I didn't swap Zener and Avalanche effects, although either way its still a heck of a story.

Quantum RNG for $56 amazing! (2)

boley1 (2001576) | more than 2 years ago | (#38208314)

Thanks for posting about the Simtec Entropy Key. At only $56 (Qty 1) for a FIPS-140-2 Level 3 compliance type device based on quantum tunnels is pretty amazing. Just the buzz words, are worth that for any system advertised as secure.

What's the distribution? (2)

sk19842 (841452) | more than 2 years ago | (#38207954)

I agree that the numbers are random, in the sense that they're subject to chance, but how confident are they that they know the sampling distribution? That is, can you use this method to generate a random sample a with uniform distribution, or a gamma distribution, or anything else you'd like to use random numbers for?

With quantum observation errors, I wonder if they're assuming the sampling distribution is normal, in which case they'd have to do some work to convert it to give the kind of output that rand() gives. Problems would likely show up in the tails of the distribution (near 0 and 1). TFA doesn't mention any of the statistical issues, only the physics ones.

Lava Lamps (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38207958)

This reminds me of the researcher at SGI (Remember them?!) who used his Indigo's camera to take pictures of his lava lamp, from which he would hash random bits.

xray crystallography (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#38207962)

'Sussman's Ottawa lab uses a pulse of laser light that lasts a few trillionths of a second. His team shines it at a diamond. The light goes in and comes out again, but along the way, it changes. ... It is changed because it has interacted with quantum vacuum fluctuations, the microscopic flickering of the amount of energy in a point in space. ... What happens to the light is unknown — and unknowable.

Sounds very much like xray crystallography which discovers all kinds of interesting things about the crystalline matrix.

Would be hilarious if they discover via non-random results there is, after all, some inherent crystaline like order to the quantum vacuum. Or even funnier if they knew it all along, and some TLA agency paid them to try and pass it off as random, cloaked in a lot of new age zero point energy stuff.

Nothing is quite as random as humans & heat (1)

MindPrison (864299) | more than 2 years ago | (#38208088)

When it comes to true random devices, I've coded some micro-controllers to add random numbers based on key-presses from humans, picture someone pressing the button when a 24 mhz timer runs mad, no human that I know of - can repeat press the button so accurately that it hits the same number at a 0.00001th of a second more or less.

When no human interaction is required, I use an insanely accurate temperature sensor, no temperature, not even placed in a professional fridge with 0.01c accuracy can get the same results each time. Mix this with a spinning/running timer, and you've got yourself a winner! ;)

C64 (3, Interesting)

jamesh (87723) | more than 2 years ago | (#38208150)

The Commodore 64 could produce random numbers by sampling the white noise generator in the SID audio chip. They probably weren't as random as shining a laser through the diamond but I wonder if the difference is enough to matter...

Size? (1)

pdxer (2520686) | more than 2 years ago | (#38208168)

Is this really something that could be reduced in size to something that fits in a computer? The article didn't say what scale his equipment is - square kilometer or square inch?

Contained (2)

Hentes (2461350) | more than 2 years ago | (#38208174)

Big advantages of this is that it requires no outside information source, inexpensive and could be miniaturized to fit on an extension card. Then we all could put a random card next to our graphics card in our machines.

Wrong, it's all random (2)

koan (80826) | more than 2 years ago | (#38208184)

"Matter is built on flaky foundations. Physicists have now confirmed that the apparently substantial stuff is actually no more than fluctuations in the quantum vacuum."
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn16095-its-confirmed-matter-is-merely-vacuum-fluctuations.html [newscientist.com]

Everything is random.

"The Higgs field is also thought to make a small contribution, giving mass to individual quarks as well as to electrons and some other particles. The Higgs field creates mass out of the quantum vacuum too, in the form of virtual Higgs bosons. So if the LHC confirms that the Higgs exists, it will mean all reality is virtual."

And if it's all virtual who or what is running the simulation? Or maybe it's self generating "I am because I think I am"

Much easier method (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38208216)

Temperatures
Randon EM interference.
Throw it through your typical pools.
A TRNG in hardware wouldn't be that hard to add, or expensive. Just feed it all data from constantly varying sources like those above, even HDD speeds, fan speeds, bus inputs (USB especially!), timers, battery power, so many sources.

Better yet, if you wish to prevent cases of random continuous strings (such as that 999999 joke up there), you could add a very simple register that holds the last value, or couple values, and the current value cannot be the same or it rerolls.
Add as many registers as you want for less continuous sequences (up to whatever the size of the data is)
Of course, they are also useful, so don't eliminate too many of them.

Necessity is the mother of invention! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38208400)

What happens to the light is unknown — and unknowable.

Or was, at least until someone raised the idea of using it for purposes that will lead to incentivizing people to figure it out. Unlocking this mystery will presumably soon become a lucrative endeavor pursued by many. The question now is how long it will be until someone (or some supercomputer) starts to see patterns in the data produced.

Cheers to novel ideas that inadvertently advance scientific understanding.

UH..... (1)

MAXOMENOS (9802) | more than 2 years ago | (#38208424)

What happens to the light is unknown — and unknowable.

It's knowable or else we couldn't measure it to generate random numbers.

Whether it's predictable is another matter entirely, and I'm almost positive that it isn't.

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