In somewhat of a kick in the teeth for law enforcement and spy agencies, a science institute says smartphones will soon be able to take advantage of some of the most spectacular encryption ever known.
The Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO) says random number generators (RNGs) will soon be able to function without ever repeating the random number and that the quantum-based chips will soon be small enough to fit in a smartphone’s form factor. It would create the fastest and smallest encryption functionality ever.
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One of the problems with traditional RNGs is that they are based on algorithms, and experts say the numbers generated by the mathematics can be guessed if you know how the algorithm was built. An RNG isn’t really random, ICFO explains in a news release on its website.
The RNG is actually a pseudo-random number generator. It “appears random, but eventually the sequences repeat.” That’s not good if you’re using RNGs to create encryption keys. Truly random number generation would be better.
Quantum processes can better “extract randomness,” the institute says. And if that could be made to work well, the RNGs would be “truly random and unpredictable.”
ICFO, which has published its paper in Optica, says it’s developed a 6mm-by-2mm Quantum random number generator (QRNG) microprocessor that uses photonics.
Photonics are light-based data mechanisms and transmission methods.
How the QRNG chip works
The group’s chip uses a combination of quantum-specific techniques—one called phase diffusion, related to patterns—and lasers. A series of pulses are created with similar amplitudes and random phases. Messing with the light pulses, using an interferometer, generates “a high-rate random sequence of numbers.” They’re better random numbers, in other words.
The group says their demonstration device is fast enough to even encrypt voice calls—among other processing-intensive applications, such as video and data being sent to servers. It could make keys quickly for extremely heavy usage applications, such as social network servers.
“This new device operates at speeds in the range of gigabits per second,” the release says. And it’s clearly small.
Others in the federal government and spook, commentary business are taking note:
“For the first time, engineers have developed a fast random number generator based on a quantum mechanical process that could deliver the world’s most secure encryption keys in a package tiny enough to use in a mobile device,” Homeland Security Newswire says in its coverage of the development.
Senior police officers and spy bosses don't think smartphones should be encrypted at all—or should be encrypted with backdoors to help them catch evil-doers. Some levels of encryption have existed natively on the two largest smartphone operating systems, Android and Apple’s iOS, for a while.
The security chiefs will certainly not be happy to learn that an RNG that creates numbers that can’t even be guessed might shortly be making its way into mobile devices such as smartphones. Police bosses have in the past called smartphone encryption “going dark” because of the level of impedance they say it has on their job.
Public awareness of secret government snooping, though, was brought to the forefront by the Edward Snowden revelations, and civil freedom fans (and crooks), on the other hand, will welcome the news.
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