How lava lamps are contributing to internet security through cryptography

Posted at 1:15 PM, Jun 13, 2019

Lava lamps may be fun reminders of the 1970s, but these days, some are being used to help keep data secure.

Nick Sullivan with a tech firm called Cloudflare shows a wall of lava lamps that are part cryptography. The wall is in the Cloudflare lobby.

"What encryption is, is a way to make sure the communication, the data you send, the messages you're typing in-whether — it's your credit card or messages to your friend on Facebook or something — all of those are sent in a way that's scrambled up, so that only the website is able to unscramble it," Sullivan says.

It does so by using random numbers.

In cryptography, random means unpredictable, says the Cloudflare blog.

"It has to be something that no one really can predict," Sullivan says. "And this is where the lava lamps come into play."

The heated wax inside a lava lamp never forms in the exact same shape or pattern twice, so it's truly random. A camera is position on the ceiling and takes pictures of the lamps.

"We take these pictures and we turn them into these random numbers," Sullivan explains. "Once we have these random numbers, we send them to our servers who help take these random numbers and convert them into the encryption that you use when communicating with a website."

Because there are multiple facets to securing websites, the lamps are just a part of Cloudflare's number generation process.

But they are definitely the grooviest part.