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How a local company creates true randomness

A St. Petersburg startup plans to secure the future through the world’s oldest random number generator – physically manipulating dice.

Data networks hold copious amounts of personal and sensitive information, while cyber attacks are increasingly common and constantly evolving. However, as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has noted for over a decade, computers rely on programmed algorithms for encryption and cannot generate truly random numbers to protect against outside intrusions.

While these sophisticated “pseudo-random” keys are difficult to predict, computer-aided analysis can reveal an underlying pattern over time. Doug Hill, founder of Real Random, explained how his company could help the nation’s military and organizations with the highest security standards generate authentically unpredictable keys.

Hill showcased his work Tuesday at the Maritime and Defense Technology Hub’s monthly Tech X-change. Real Random operates out of the waterfront facility, and he asked attendees if they could look outside the conference room window and predict how the waves would move.

“That’s true randomness,” Hill said. “The only source of true randomness in the world is nature. It’s our raindrops; it’s the bird that poops on you at the beach.”

Doug Hill explained Real Random’s military applications at the Maritime and Defense Technology Hub. Photo by Mark Parker.

Despite the complex subject matter, his solution incorporates a relatively simple concept. Hill is suspending 200 dice in a 3-D-printed bottle of water with an attached cell phone and corresponding mobile application “and putting it in the hands of warfighters.”

He noted that once someone shakes the bottle, it creates chaos. The phone takes a picture of the unpredictable string of numbers, which results in a cryptographic key based on physical phenomena rather than a mathematical equation.

The mobile app incorporates the resulting numerical key into a single-use QR code on the phone, allowing for critical communications on a battlefield.

“Because Bluetooth is not secure,” Hill explained. “If an adversary captures the key on that drone – it’s not that hard to do – if they capture the QR code that’s commonly printed today on a sticker on the drone using satellite imagery, that’s very easy to do, what can they do?

“They can send a drone in that’s identical with a payload of explosives and kill people. So, we’re solving problems like that.”

Hill is initially focusing on military applications following conversations with Special Operations Forces stakeholders. He partnered with Pat Mack, founder of data analytics firm PVM and another Hub tenant, to create the corresponding mobile app for Samsung phones preferred by SOF operators to generate cryptographic keys in the field.

Hill added that the “Type 1” encryption for in-field operations “doesn’t exist today, and that’s really what we’re doing.” Since passwords generated by the 200 dice and physics are single-use, users know that any repeated attempts are fraudulent.

Real Random uses secure phone cases developed by another company that blocks apps from communicating and the device’s location services, camera and microphones from functioning. The latest number generator is an eighth-generation prototype.

Hill is also working with a local artificial intelligence company to increase accuracy in medical applications. Photo by Mark Parker.

Hill said the first “major” use case is ensuring warfighters can securely communicate with one another and machinery “because it’s something that is a big problem.”

“Encryption across the military complex is something that’s very antiquated,” he added. “It’s something that hasn’t been updated in a very long time. If we aren’t using true randomness, there is no way we’re going to stop quantum computing attacks on our infrastructure. All national security is at risk right now.”

Hill, a former land developer in Delaware, launched Real Random in 2014 as a multi-factor data security provider. He spent the next six years developing his initial prototype and became one of the original founders to join Tampa’s Embarc Collective tech co-working hub.

Moving to St. Petersburg’s Hub was a natural transition due to its national defense aspects and collaboration opportunities. The military complex often adopts emerging technology – think GPS – before civilian companies ascertain how to incorporate it into consumer goods and services.

While that is his current focus, Real Random’s website notes its potential in healthcare, finance and cryptocurrency applications. Hill envisions his patents eventually becoming ubiquitous in global data centers.

In addition, he said pseudo-randomness causes bias in Artificial Intelligence (AI), a hot topic as the technology has entered mainstream use. Hill is working with the founders of Tampa-based Maya AI to increase accuracy in medical operations.

He awaits more people to realize that a seemingly random, computer-generated code “isn’t good enough,” despite it being mostly free, fast and easy to use.

“I often say that I feel like I’m selling bottled water in 1990,” Hill said.

Real Random’s technology demonstration:



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