For decades, the simple problem of generating a “true” random number has perplexed mathematicians and computer scientists across the globe. Almost all encryption algorithms today, especially those used to secure electronic communications, incorporate a “pseudo” random number generator. The sequences of number produced in this fashion are not truly random, as they are generated either by an underlying algorithm or by measuring a physical process during the event – like the timestamp or the coordinates of your mouse on the computer screen. If a third-party gains relevant information on which method was used to generate the “random” numbers, they could not only predict those numbers and decrypt your secured digital communications but in the process also gain access to the sensitive information stored in them.
To circumvent this problem, Quantum Base, a company based out of Lancaster University, UK, has moved away from classical physics and relied on the inherent randomness displayed in quantum particles to develop the world’s first practical Quantum Random Number Generator (QRNG). While photons exists in any of the two state – 0 or 1, quantum particles can exist in any state in between them, or sometimes in more than one state at a time. The state of a quantum particle is purely random and un-identifiable, as observing it can result in a change of state. Quantum Base have utilized this phenomenon to develop the nanoscale QNRG device, using quantum tunneling in a simple semiconductor structure called resonant tunneling diode (RTD). The device holds the potential to capitalize on the weaknesses of current key generation, allowing ledger based technologies like blockchain to be implemented using simple, accessible, and unbreakable quantum security.
Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Maryland are the first who proposed the idea of using quantum physics in building a random number generator that generates unpredictable numbers. However, their quantum randomness machine was deemed slow and too expensive to be used in a commercial setting. Nonetheless, the QRNG developed by Quantum Base has the potential to succeed, owing to its extremely small size (one-thousandth the width of a human hair). As the number of smart devices is set to surpass 50 billion units by 2020, the QNRG device could be embedded in any existing microelectronics with a very high maximum speed without increasing cost or complexity.
As the 21st century progresses at a rapid rate, the world’s reliance on digital communication has seen an unprecedented rise. This has also led to an increase in cybercrimes by black-hat hackers, who has exposed the faults in the current encryption methods. Global Cybercrimes is predicted to incur a loss of $6 trillion by 2021. A notable example of large scale cybercrime occurred in Estonia, where information from 750,000 digital ID cards were compromised, leading to vulnerability and risk of identity of its citizens. Generating unpredictable random numbers is an essential step in the development of advanced encryption algorithms that are used for the security and privacy of online information. Professor Rob Young, Director of Lancaster University’s Quantum Technology Centre, describes the importance of the invention of QRNG: “The technology we have created here is exciting not only because it solves an important problem, but it also represents the best possible solution to that problem. Flaws in the way current electronic devices produce random numbers weakens their security and makes them less efficient. Our solution fixes this, but it’s also incredibly small and efficient, which is very important.”