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ANU providing random numbers from the quantum vacuum noise

By johnboy - 11 April 2012 17

random number generator

ANU has some very exciting news about the generation of random numbers. Which does effect your life in everything from credit card transaction security to how we pick the winners of competitions and which local artists we put in the rugby podcast:

Professor Lam said vacuum was once thought to be completely empty, dark, and silent until the discovery of the modern quantum theory. Since then scientists have discovered that vacuum is an extent of space that has virtual sub-atomic particles spontaneously appearing and disappearing.

It is the presence of these virtual particles that give rise to random noise. This ‘vacuum noise’ is omnipresent and may affect and ultimately pose a limit to the performances of fibre optic communication, radio broadcasts and computer operation.

“While it has always been thought to be an annoyance that engineers and scientists would like to circumvent, we instead exploited this vacuum noise and used it to generate random numbers,” Professor Lam said.

“Random number generation has many uses in information technology. Global climate prediction, air traffic control, electronic gaming, encryption, and various types of computer modelling all rely on the availability of unbiased, truly random numbers.

“To date, most random number generators are based on computer algorithms. Although computer generated random numbers can be useful, knowing the input conditions to the algorithm will lead to predictable and reproducible output, thus making the numbers not truly random. To overcome this issue, random number generators relying on inherently random physical processes, such as radioactive decay and chaotic behaviour in circuits, have been developed.”

Dr Thomas Symul added: “Vacuum noise is one of the ultimate sources of randomness because it is intrinsically broadband and its unpredictability is guaranteed by quantum theory. Because of this, we are able to generate billions of random numbers every second.”

Even more exciting they’ve made the generator available to the public.

We’d been using Random.Org for our random number needs, but will be happy to switch.

[Photo of Random Number Generator courtesy ANU]

What’s Your opinion?


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17 Responses to
ANU providing random numbers from the quantum vacuum noise
Jethro 8:32 pm 11 Apr 12

They should use this to work out where they set up their random breath testing units.

Phil_the_Printer 7:39 pm 11 Apr 12

That generator seems to have a bug… or a great coincidence… I tried it with 1-9999 and generated hundreds of numbers but not one went higher than 1000. I suspect a bug or it is a very surprising string of choices.

davo101 6:13 pm 11 Apr 12

QuanTom said :

It is true that hardware random number generator would have some QC implemented, but that is not enough to insure they actually produce unique random numbers. For example, the decimals of pi, or any many other irrational numbers, are going to pass all the randomness tests, although they are obviously not random.

We were talking about detecting when a hardware generator stopped working. Anyway, one of the consequences of an infinite universe is that there is currently an infinite number of QRNG’s spitting out the binary expansion of pi 😯

QuanTom said :

In the case of the QRNG here the interesting thing is that the ultimate source of randomness is these vacuum fluctuations, that are theoretically random. What this device does, is isolate these quantum fluctuations from all other ‘classical’ measurement noise, hence insuring theoretical randomness. This is impossible to insure with other hardware random number generator.

When you’re generating random numbers noise is your friend. Noise = unpredictable. Thermal noise, shot noise, avalanche noise, it doesn’t matter so long as your attacker can’t guess too well what’s coming up next. You could use the phase difference between two atomic clocks as a random number generator (the entropy might be a bit low so the bit rate would be small).

QuanTom said :

Sure, that is an overkill for a private usage, but it might be of interest for big organisations doing cryptography (google servers?)

Pretty much all of the requirements for a true RNG would have been met if Intel had persisted in supplying a hardware generator in their chip-sets. I mean, seriously, how many cents did they save by dropping it?

QuanTom said :

or for people running numerical simulations on super-computers.

A QRNG for simulation? Insane! One of the things about numerical simulation is that sometimes you have to reproduce the results. If I used a QRNG then I’m going to have to store GB’s of uncompressable random numbers rather than a couple of hundred bits of initial state for a pseudo RNG.

chewy14 4:14 pm 11 Apr 12

Perhaps the police can utilise it for their Random Breath Testing?

PantsMan 3:53 pm 11 Apr 12

13

QuanTom 3:00 pm 11 Apr 12

davo101 said :

johnboy said :

I would suspect the vacuum noise would be more likely to stay random over the long run. But that’s just a hunch, would love to see them tested against each other.

Most hardware generators run constant QC tests so if they stop being random they throw up an exception.

I’m also a little poor on the reading comprehension, the interesting feature of this is the fact that it can generate at a rate of 5.7Gbits/s. Great for making one-time pads, just a little bit over the top for your average server.

It is true that hardware random number generator would have some QC implemented, but that is not enough to insure they actually produce unique random numbers. For example, the decimals of pi, or any many other irrational numbers, are going to pass all the randomness tests, although they are obviously not random.
In the case of the QRNG here the interesting thing is that the ultimate source of randomness is these vacuum fluctuations, that are theoretically random. What this device does, is isolate these quantum fluctuations from all other ‘classical’ measurement noise, hence insuring theoretical randomness. This is impossible to insure with other hardware random number generator.
The next punchline is the bit generation speed: 5.6 Gb/s is orders of magnitude faster than any other QRNG that has been demonstrated to date. Moreover the the rate can be easily improved in the future. Sure, that is an overkill for a private usage, but it might be of interrest for big organisations doing cryptography (google servers?), or for people running numerical simulations on super-computers. Finally, slowing down, and reducing the cost, of this device would not pose any challenge.

KDog 2:30 pm 11 Apr 12

Also big lol @ the pic. It’s a National Instruments PXI, which is just a data convertor.

Why didn’t they give an actual pic of the QRNG optics?

davo101 1:55 pm 11 Apr 12

johnboy said :

I would suspect the vacuum noise would be more likely to stay random over the long run. But that’s just a hunch, would love to see them tested against each other.

Most hardware generators run constant QC tests so if they stop being random they throw up an exception.

I’m also a little poor on the reading comprehension, the interesting feature of this is the fact that it can generate at a rate of 5.7Gbits/s. Great for making one-time pads, just a little bit over the top for your average server.

KDog 1:38 pm 11 Apr 12

True randomness could be an issue. Semiconductor junction could be open to external influeneces, causing a non-random distribution. Something the QRNG isn’t succeptible to.

There’s also a slight speed difference.
The photon QRNG does a nice high bit rate ~5Gb/s and could go higher in the future. The Semi QRNG will never match this speed as it measures a single event at a time.

switch 12:19 pm 11 Apr 12
poetix 11:56 am 11 Apr 12

OK, I’ll be the village idiot:

I always wondered why vacuum cleaners were so noisy.

davo101 11:54 am 11 Apr 12

johnboy said :

No mention on that entropy key page on where they’re getting the entropy from.

They use the avalanche noise from a junction diode. The ANU press release doesn’t really tell you why we should be excited. Is it going to be faster or cheaper? The entropy key “only” produces 32 kbits/s of random numbers but this is more than enough for a server and it’s only about $60.

johnboy 11:52 am 11 Apr 12

Ah wait.

The Entropy Key uses P-N semiconductor junctions reverse biassed with a high enough voltage to bring them near to, but not beyond, breakdown in order to generate noise. In other words, it has a pair of devices that are wired up in such a way that as a high potential is applied across them, where electrons do not normally flow in this direction and would be blocked, the high voltage compresses the semiconduction gap sufficiently that the occasional stray electron will quantum tunnel through the P-N junction. (This is sometimes referred to as avalanche noise.) When this happens is unpredictable, and this is what the Entropy Key measures.

I would suspect the vaccuum noise would be more likely to stay random over the long run. But that’s just a hunch, would love to see them tested against each other.

johnboy 11:22 am 11 Apr 12

davo101 said :

Which I assume will look like something I can already buy.

No mention on that entropy key page on where they’re getting the entropy from.

davo101 11:08 am 11 Apr 12

From the end of the article:

In collaboration with QuintessenceLabs, an Australian quantum technology company, the ANU team is now looking into commercialising this device. The team hopes to have this technology miniaturised down to the size of a thumb drive.

Which I assume will look like something I can already buy.

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