The lava lamp usually gets a bum rap as some kind of lowbrow psychedelic entertainment system for people who are too strung out to enjoy any stimulation of real substance. But the lazy loafing sources of light and blobs (endless blobs!) are most definitely a lot more than a way to keep somebody distracted while they’re coming down off a Kalaxian Crystal high. In fact, it turns out that a wall of lava lamps is a critical component of the encryption effort responsible for about 10% of internet traffic. It both inspires awe, and an urge to re-watch Half-Baked.
YouTuber and maker of things Tom Scott looked into the wall of internet-protecting lava lamps when he recently visited Cloudflare, Inc. in San Francisco. You may not have heard of Cloudflare, but the tech company (which is partly owned by Google, of course) is responsible for the protection of over six million websites, including many large, recognizable names like Uber, OKCupid, and Fitbit. It’s difficult to overstate the importance of Cloudflare’s security services, as websites without its protection can and do fall prey to DDoS (Denial of Service) attacks that render them defunct.
This means the wall of lava lamps, which is also known as the “Entropy Wall,” is supremely important for protecting internet traffic. But how exactly does it do that, you ask? It has nothing to do with spacing out and getting the munchies, and everything to do with creating randomness. As Scott notes in the video, creating genuine randomness is a crucial component of encryption, because if encryption keys, which are used to lock and unlock (encrypt and decrypt) private data sent between two or more parties are not truly random, they can be duplicated.
In order to create this randomness, Cloudflare has set up a camera to take pictures and video of the wall of lava lamps and turn it into a stream of random data, which is used to help create the encryption keys. “Every time that you take a picture with the camera… there’s going to be some noise,” says one of the Cloudflare employees in the video, “so it’s not only just where the bubbles are flowing through the lava lamp… every tiny change impacts the stream of data.” Which sounds super profound right? Or is that just the lava lamps talking?
What do you think about the fact that 10% of internet traffic relies on a wall of lava lamps for its encryption? Give us your thoughts below!
Images: Tom Scott