A Short History of Random Numbers, and Why You Need to Care

Matthew Garrett (CoreOS)
Tools and Techniques
Location: Portland 252 Level: Novice
Average rating: ****.
(4.72, 18 ratings)
Slides:   external link

Random numbers have been important to society since the first dice were carved out of bone over 5000 years ago. We’ve (mostly) stopped carving things out of bone now, but we rely on random numbers more than ever. Every single encrypted connection consumes random numbers, and with an increased focus on privacy on the internet, the number of encrypted connections is only going to increase.

But where do we get those random numbers? An individual computer may be fed enough random events to satisfy its requirements, but what if that individual computer is running a large number of virtualised machines? Can we guarantee that all of them will have sufficiently random numbers? If we can’t, what’s the worst case scenario? What is a sufficiently random number anyway?

This presentation covers the history of random number generation, from the earliest dice throwing through to the invention of the first pseudo-random number generator by a medieval monk and its rediscovery in the mid-20th century. The influence of random numbers on science will also be explored, culminating in an examination of how random a “random” number really is in the modern world and whether modern cloud environments are risking the security of everyone who connects to them – and, if so, some ways to fix that.

Photo of Matthew Garrett

Matthew Garrett


Former Linux kernel developer (at Red Hat) and former fruitfly biologist (not at Red Hat), Matthew now holds opinions on cloud security at Nebula. He was responsible for much of the design and implementation of the secure boot solution being used by most Linux distributions and would prefer not to have to do that again, thanks.

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Picture of Matthew Garrett
Matthew Garrett
07/31/2013 5:39am PDT

I’ve uploaded the slides at http://www.codon.org.uk/~mjg59/oscon_random_2013.odp

Picture of Gauthier de Valensart
Gauthier de Valensart
07/29/2013 7:46pm PDT

Do you have the slides ?


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