Energy Department's Random Number Generator Could Make for Stronger Encryption


Oak Ridge scientists believe they have created a quantum-based device that creates truly random numbers.

The Energy Department has technology that can generate random number sequences, and now it wants to commercialize it.

It’s incredibly difficult to create a truly random sequence of numbers—often devices actually seed the sequence with the time or some other predictable number, according to the Energy Department. But a newly developed system that relies on energized particles helped scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory do so, and the lab is looking for a partner to license out and commercialize that device.

Quantum-based systems use the energy properties of particles to store information. In quantum computing, particles known as qubits can be in multiple energized stages at once, so scientists can use them to represent more complex problems than the ones they can with a classical system using ones and zeroes.  In theory, quantum mechanics are “truly random [in] nature,” according to the solicitation.

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Scientists at Oak Ridge believe they have created a device that uses quantum principles and is truly random, accounting for any ambient effects that might make the results predictable. That “self-correcting quantum random number generator” is much cheaper than other generators on the market, according to the Energy Department.

Random numbers can be especially useful in encryption when data is encoded so intruders can’t view it without a specific key. Some systems that purport to generate random numbers are used to build cryptographic keys, but if the number isn’t truly random—if hackers determine that it’s seeded with a timestamp, for instance—they might be able to unlock the system.

The generator could also be used for statistical analysis, and in predicting “the lottery, gambling, and other games of chance,” the solicitation said.

The generator was built under Oak Ridge’s Technology Innovation Program, which uses royalties from technology license to help get the products market ready.