When you enter the lobby at the Cloudflare office in San Francisco, there’s a big wall of lava lamps – eighty of them, to be exact. They’re not there just to look nice, however. They provide a crucial input for the encryption Cloudflare uses to protect your browsing.
Just once more because this is very cool: The security of your Internet browsing comes, in part, from lava lamps!
This lamp wall was modelled on a previous project called LavaRand, which, like its surviving successor, was built to provide true randomness for computers by using a live video stream of the lamps.
True randomness in computing is a big deal. Ordinarily, everything about a computer is really predictable. In security, however, sometimes you require things to be as chaotic as can be. If a given protocol relies on generating a secret key, that no one else can know, then the generator for that key must be absolutely impossible to follow. Otherwise, a motivated attacker will eventually be able to figure out a pattern to its generation. Pattern in hand, they can then observe the current output or state of the generator, and extrapolate its upcoming outputs. This precise attack was used on slot machines, as recently as 2017.
Lava lamps are highly unpredictable, so they make a great source of entropy for the security keys that protect your everyday browsing!
Oh, and do you think you can be a true source of randomness? Try out this simple demonstration here of something called an Aaronson Oracle.
❤ Loved lately
A great Motherboard interview with two advocates for redesigning the emptying suburbs to fit better modern life, and step up to better care for our climate at the same time: The people the suburbs were built for are gone. They have a book that just came out, and several publications under the title Retrofitting Suburbia.
I recently discovered a work of art I love, by Walead Beshty, simply called FedEx. He creates glass (or otherwise fragile) boxes that conform exactly to the dimensions of FedEx shipping boxes, and ships them without additional protection to the galleries where they are exposed. The shipping process creates damage, and it becomes part of the artwork.
Design for fidgeting – A great short essay by Sean Voisen on the ways playful manipulation and tactility come into play (pardon the pun) when working with our everyday tools, and how software should complement this deep part of ourselves.