Quantum-based random numbers to go
- By Patrick Marshall
- Sep 05, 2018
The secret of secure computing, said Robert Young, director of Lancaster University's Quantum Technology Centre and cofounder of Quantum Base, is random numbers. Encryption software, in fact, relies on the generation of random numbers for encoding data, which is ultimately decrypted by a device that has the appropriate key.
The problem, said Young, is that “most current techniques for generating random numbers aren't very random at all, and computers are particularly poor at generating random numbers.”
Machine learning software, he said, can examine a stream of encoded data and work backwards to determine the “seed condition” for generating the encryption, then predict what the random number generator will produce. “That raises a whole range of security issues,” he said.
Young has a quantum-based solution that has been patented by Quantum Base. “What we did is build a resistance diode,” he said. “Electrons can take two different paths through the diode. Quantum mechanics dictates which path is taken, and we measure which path the electrons go through the diode by measuring the voltage across the top of the diode.”
If an electron takes one path it is recorded as an “0,” and it takes the other path it is recorded as a “1.”
The diode is only a few nanometers thick and a few hundred nanometers square, which makes it suitable for eventually integrating it into processors for computers or other devices. Young said that Quantum Base expects to see that happen in about 12 months.
In the meantime, the company is integrating the technology -- called Q-RAND -- into external devices, such as USB sticks. If you’ve got a device with a random number generator, Young said, “You can retrofit an existing device using a thumb drive with one of our random number generators.”
Co-founder Phillip Speed said in a statement that the technology “can be incorporated into any electronic product with little or no incremental cost once volume production is achieved."
Editor's note: This article was changed Sept. 10 to clarify that the technology was patented solely by Quantum Base.
Patrick Marshall is a freelance technology writer for GCN.