Sounds crazy, but this wall of lava lamps keeps you protected from hackers

Computers are supposed to be predictable. In 99.9 percent of cases, that’s exactly what we want from them. The exception to that rule? When we’re trying to get a computer to generate a truly random number, which is crucial for things like encryption. We’ve previously covered some innovative ways to solve this problem, ranging from quantum physics to carbon nanotubes — but Silicon Valley-based web performance and security company Cloudflare has a different and far more fun, solution: lava lamps.

In the lobby of Cloudflare’s global headquarters in San Francisco, there’s a wall packed with 100 lava lamps of various colors. These lamps are recorded with a camera and a live feed sent to the company’s server, so that lava-related data can be extracted from the image and used to generate packets of unpredictable bits. These unpredictable bits are then sent to Cloudflare servers around the world to help generate cryptographic keys, which ultimately encrypt data for around 10 percent of all web requests.

In other words, when you browse the internet, the security of the data you’re sending and receiving is, in part, provided by a wall of lava lamps.

1270495 autosave v1 img 6160
Dani Grant
Dani Grant

“True randomness is difficult to achieve in computers because computers are designed to be predictable,” Nick Sullivan, head of cryptography at Cloudflare, told Digital Trends. “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.”

Sullivan said the idea for the lava lamp came about in the early days of Cloudflare in discussions between himself, CEO Matthew Prince, CTO John Graham-Cumming, and other early employees — all of whom wanted both to achieve high levels of security and also create some groovy functional art for their office design. “In true startup fashion, we iterated,” he continued. “We started with a single orange lava lamp in the kitchen of the old Cloudflare office, and when we moved to our global headquarters we built an entire wall of them into our lobby.”

News of Cloudflare’s unorthodox (but effective) approach to encryption was recently shared with the world in a video by YouTuber Tom Scott. “I make videos about science, technology, and interesting things in the world — and this was all three,” Scott told us. He’s certainly not wrong on that front!

Mobile

Instagram tool accidentally exposes user passwords. Were you affected?

Instagram's Download Your Data tool accidentally exposed the passwords of a small number of users. Here is the explanation on what happened, and how to find out which Instagram accounts were compromised.
Emerging Tech

Hikers missing on Mount Fuji could soon find a drone buzzing above their heads

Hikers who go missing while climbing Japan's highest mountain could soon find a drone buzzing above their head. A new system using the flying machines has been set up on Mount Fuji for future search-and-rescue missions.
Emerging Tech

Intel’s new ‘neural network on a stick’ aims to unchain A.I. from the internet

To kick off its first developer conference in Beijing, Intel unveiled the second generation of its Neural Compute Stick -- a device that promises to democratize the development of computer vision A.I. applications.
Computing

Cloudflare’s privacy-enhancing 1.1.1.1 DNS service comes to iOS and Android

Cloudflare's 1.1.1.1 DNS resolver service has been ported to mobile devices, and now anyone with an Android or iOS device can download it for free to take advantage of its speed and privacy-boosting features.
Emerging Tech

In a weighty decision, scientists prepare to redefine the kilogram

Metrologists are meeting at the General Conference on Weights and Measures in Versailles to vote on whether to redefine the kilogram as a constant that can be observed in the natural world.
Photography

See the National Forests like never before in these awe-inspiring drone videos

What's the difference between a National Park and a National Forest? Drones. With no ban on drones in National Forests -- at least, not yet -- filmmakers have a way to capture the immensity of these locations with stunning results.
Emerging Tech

Google’s balloon internet is coming to Kenya in 2019

In order to bring the internet to those who lack it, a company called Loon is launching balloons into the stratosphere. From more than 12 miles up, these balloons beam connectivity over a large area on the ground.
Emerging Tech

Elon Musk receives FCC approval to launch over 7,500 satellites into space

Not surprisingly, SpaceX is thinking big with Starlink, its space-based global broadband network. This week, the company received FCC approval to launch 7,518 satellites into a low-Earth orbit for its satellite internet service.
Cars

The world’s first 3D-printed titanium wheels are so intricate they look fake

HRE Performance Wheels and GE Additive have teamed up to create the world's first 3D-printed titanium wheels. They are not only impressively durable, but extremely lightweight as well.
Emerging Tech

Of all the vape pens in the world, these 5 are the best

Vaping concentrates has become significantly more popular, especially among those that use cannabis for medicinal purposes. But don’t use just any vape pen: we found these five devices to be our favorites in 2018.
Emerging Tech

DJI Mavic 2 Pro vs Mavic 2 Zoom: What’s the real difference?

DJI's Mavic 2 series drones are ready to fly -- but which one is right for you? The Mavic 2 Pro and Mavic 2 Zoom are nearly identical save for their cameras. Here's what you need to know about these powerful new UAVs.
Emerging Tech

This startup will sequence your entire genome for free — but there’s a catch

Want to get your DNA sequenced but don’t want to shell out the hundred bucks or so to do so? A new startup called Nebula Genomics offers you the opportunity to have it done for free.
Emerging Tech

Here’s all the best tech gear and gadgetry that survived Shark Tank

The television show "Shark Tank" has churned out quite a few strange, interesting, and downright awesome products -- so we rounded up some of the best ones for your perusal. Enjoy!
Emerging Tech

Students who designed transforming smart home will compete in Solar Decathalon

Modular smart homes are all the rage, and now some students from Virginia Tech are putting their money on their FutureHAUS, a modular, solar-powered, transforming smart home they're taking to the Solar Decathlon in Dubai.