The New Weapon Against ID Theft: Lasers

A new technology uses lasers to generate random numbers and encrypt your credit card transactions.

By Adam T. Hadhazy|Tuesday, February 17, 2009
A display shows laser output (pink and green) used to generate random bits (yellow).
Image courtesy of Atsushi Uchida

Keeping prying eyes from seeing your credit card number online relies on digital encryption keys generated from random numbers. Now a Japan-based team has made those keys tougher to crack.

Their method uses lasers to generate random numbers 10 times more quickly than before, creating 1.7 gigabits, or almost 2 billion ones and zeros, in one second. (Speed is important, since e-commerce servers can handle millions of transactions per second.) The randomness comes from reflecting some laser light back into itself, like a river splashing against a rock. Electric circuits convert the laser’s fluctuating brightness into a stream of unpredictable numbers. Study author Peter Davis, a physicist at the NTT Corporation in Kyoto, Japan, says lasers could add some much-needed chaos to the online world.

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