EPFL developed tech makes it to the International Space Station
The U.S. start-up Cryptosat has taken the EPFL developed Drand protocol, the internet’s first production grade, publicly verifiable randomness beacon, into space for an historic experiment.
Is space the next frontier for data security here on Earth? Researchers at the U.S. satellite start-up, Cryptosat, think it will be and they have just launched several experiments from the International Space Station (ISS) to test this.
One of these experiments showcased the EPFL developed Drand Randomness Beacon, security technology that emerged from distributed randomness research by Associate Professor, Bryan Ford and his colleagues at EPFL’s Decentralized and Distributed Systems Lab (DEDIS) in the School of Computer and Communication Sciences. They developed the foundations underlying the Drand protocol, a distributed, bias resistant, unpredictable, always-on and publicly-verifiable source of randomness whose output is produced by the League of Entropy, a diverse and active network of independent parties committed to publicly producing good randomness.
But why is randomness so important and why the need for these experiments in space? Randomness plays a vital role in nearly every aspect of our daily lives from voting systems and traffic management to financial services. Where randomness has been insecure or exploitable there are cases where hackers have been able to rig lotteries or elections by influencing the randomness of the system.
Randomness also plays an especially important role in internet security. Most of the crucial protocols we rely on in our daily work are built on a layer of randomness, and to operate optimally, the distributed systems of web 3.0 require a source of randomness that is unbiased by any party. Keeping a steady stream of random numbers flowing over time, however, has not been easy.
That’s where the Drand Randomness Beacon comes in. In one of the recent ISS experiments one of Cryptosat’s crypto statellites acted as an additional participant in the League of Entropy. Going forward, the Cryptosat team hopes to place a secure computing platform on a network of satellites in orbit, generating unique randomness by utilizing entropy from physical phenomena in space.
While on Earth computing devices are vulnerable to hacking and physical attacks, placing a network in space orbit makes it physically inaccessible to anyone on the planet, solidifying the Drand network and making it more secure.
“One way to think about what Cryptosat is trying to do is to think of a vault. If you have valuable items that you want to protect from a thief, you can put a vault in your home. If you can send that vault into space, you can be even more certain that no thieves will be able to steal your valuables, giving you out of this world security,” said Gil Shotan, an engineer and one of the founders of the start-up.
Bryan Ford is excited that Drand has gone into space, “In today’s IT systems security embodies ‘weakest link’ designs. As our whole computing ecosystem gets bigger this is more of a problem, as scaling to bigger systems leads to a greater chance of any weak link breaking. We know that we can turn this around with ‘strongest link’ security, that is, decentralized security and maybe space will help to take this one giant leap further.”
The International Space Station experiments have demonstrated the viability of operating a standalone node in space serving as a cryptographic root of trust. The Cryptosat team believes that, in time, this network of satellites might even take the place of blockchain mining by providing a wholly trusted, tamper-proof validator in space. This novel technology also has the long-term potential to allow for blockchain applications that are cheaper, more reliable, more efficient, and more secure.