Zcash Touts Nuclear Waste-Fueled Random Number Generator

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Just days after the IMF chief warned that cryptocurrency mining was an environmental hazard, Zcash enthusiasts said, ‘hold my beer.’ The developers at the Powers of Tau Ceremony, a ritual coined by a couple of Zcash engineers, incorporated a radioactive artifact from the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown — more specifically from the Chernobyl Unit 4 nuclear reactor — as the entropy source in a hardware random-number generator for cryptographic use.

Developers Ryan Pierce alongside Andrew Miller took the device airborne in a Piper Cherokee aircraft in an attempt to “reduce the risk of side-channel attacks,” all the while assuring that the radioactivity emitted from the tube that was recovered from the “Chernobyl Exclusion Zone” and used in the device — “a geiger counter and a Chernobyl reactor graphite sample” — was nonconsequential, saying it was only slightly higher than “normal background radiation.”

Pierce and Miller on Jan. 20 took to Pierce’s plane and at an altitude of 3,000 feet over Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin and in true Zcash privacy fashion performed a 360-degree steep turn to make sure they weren’t being tailed by another plane or even a drone. They then launched the computation from a laptop powered by Intel and purchased from either Walmart or Best Buy. They proceded to cover more airspace until the compute was done, all in all taking about half an hour to complete. Once they landed, the uploaded the response file at a restaurant called Pilot Pete’s.

Twitter cheered the development, as did Zcash founder Zooko Wilcox –

Crypto Toxic Waste

The developer pair turned to the Chernobyl artifact in the spirit of Powers of Tau and its mission to dispose safely of “cryptographic toxic waste.” Zcash refers to the private key as toxic waste, and as a result of the company’s protocol it is never meant to see the light of day.

Pierce explained: “Weak random number generators have been responsible for security exploits. An attacker probably can’t predict timing of radioactive decays. And I wanted to do something fun for #PowersOfTau so yes, it was totally worth the effort.”

The developer pair decided that radioactive toxic waste from Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear meltdown in the eighties, (when Ukraine was still part of the Soviet Union) which spilled radioactive material into the atmosphere, was the best way to accomplish their mission.

As explained in this video, they used a cut of fabric with some graphite dust from the moderator used in the core of the Chernobyl reactor and a geiger tube that was recovered from the site and which serves as a gamma and beta emitter.”

“Ryan re-wrote the firmware for the kit’s ATtiny2313 AVR microcontroller to act as a random number generator, using the difference in timing between consecutive pairs of Geiger tube pulses, measured in microseconds,” according to the developers in their preparation steps.

The source code they created from the exercise is available on Github.

Featured image from Shutterstock.

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Gerelyn is a fintech and cryptocurrency journalist who started her career writing about traditional finance/Wall Street. She has been reporting on financial services for the past 15-plus years. In full disclosure, she holds bitcoin (BTC).