Yesterday, Pirates Took Over My Parents Bank Account

This is the story of their hack.

Yesterday evening, I received a call from my mother, frantic over the phone. She says she sees alerts of withdrawals from her bank account on her phone, with new alerts every 5 minutes or so. I try to ask her if she clicked recently on some e-mail related to her bank. She is so panicked that I don’t manage to have an answer. While trying to understand if those alerts are real or not, my wife suggests immediately that my mother should call her bank. On the phone, I ask

— did you call the bank? You should really call the bank right now if you did not.

— I don’t have any number to call them, she replies.

After a 5 seconds Google search, my wife finds a number to call in case of phishing at this bank. I start spelling the number to my mother. Before I finish my mother replies

— ah this number does not work.

— so you had already this number and tried to call it? I ask

— yes, it does not work.

She starts shouting and asks me to come over. I hang up and tell her I will call back shortly, when she is calmer. I call her back 1 minute later and tell her I will come over.

In the meantime, my wife attempts to call the number. She stumbles upon some bot asking for bank credentials or alternatively if she wants to speak to a person. She opts for a person, and indeed, ends up with someone hanging up the phone without having the chance to say a word. She then calls the international number, just below that first number. Bingo, someone helpful is here. She asks the person to call my parents.

When I arrive at my parents place, the person from the bank had reached to my mother, and closed internet access to her bank account to the great relief of everyone. Then, I search the computer, her phone, her tablet, for any text message or e-mail that was suspicious that day. I could not find any. She did receive some legitimate emails from the bank, but only alerts around what was happening in the evening. It started with a message of a new device being allowed to access the bank account website.

I then have the idea to look into the browser history. What is the first page of the day being consulted, around noon?

A phishing website with my mother’s bank name as title.

Then I try to find out how she managed to stumble upon that site. I don’t find anything. And when I ask her, it’s not entirely clear at first, there may have been another email she received. She may have clicked on that email. And she may have given various personal information on, what she believed to be, the bank website. Ok, the classic phishing story then. I tell my parents that they know they should never click on a link in an e-mail. My father then asks “but what do you mean exactly by a link?”. I fail to understand the true meaning of the question at the time, and show him what is a link exactly and elaborate further.

It does not stop there. Out of curiosity, I look at the whois information for this phishing web site. It’s on godaddy, there is not much information, except some arab name servers, and the country of registration is Saudi Arabia. When I mention this to my father later on, he says:

— This might be a coincidence, but yesterday, I gave two checks (of the same bank) to the guy in charge of the repairs (or replacement?) of the water softener I had contacted. He has an arabic name.

I know his tendencies to be “racist”, and tell him it probably does not have any relation. And then we think a bit more about the situation, and there is indeed a strange coincidence, as the phishing e-mail (which I never saw since my mother may have deleted it on purpose) was “from” the same bank, only 1 day later. How could the hackers know my parents bank? They did not receive any phishing e-mail for any other bank. The time and place point towards some sort of targeting.

I go back home, and we further discuss with my wife about all this. And she asks me:

— If the two are related, how could the water softener guys have the e-mail address of your parents?

Good question. I call my father and ask him. It turns out he had received an e-mail (a SPAM) from the water softener company and replied to it. This is how he contacted them. And perhaps, this explains why he wanted to know more about what “clicking on a link” means. I guess he knows now.

Although I have no real proof, I am quite confident the water softener SPAM and the bank hack are very closely related. I did not think phishing was so “targeted”, and again it is my wife, who told me that targeting is apparently common in phishing. All this targeting makes me think of another story, involving an 80-years old member of the family, where the special forces broke into his house around 3 a.m. a few months back, shouting “TARGET! TARGET!”, pointing their big guns, and arresting everybody in the house. But that’s a story for another time.

Remarkable Coincidences, Bad Book?

I stumbled upon a new short book Financial Models in Production from O. Kettani and A. Reghai. A page attracted my attention

A page from Kettani and Reghai's book.

This is the same example as I used on my blog, where I also present the Li’s SOR method combined with the good initial guess from Stefanica. The idea has also been expanded on in Jherek Healy’s book. What is shocking is that, beside reusing my example, they reuse my timing for Jäckel and my implementation is in Google Go, with a timing done on some older laptop. The numbers given are thus highly inconsistent. Of course, none of this is mentioned anywhere, and the book does not reference my blog.

I also find the description of how they improve the implied volatility algorithm (detailed on the next page) to not make much sense. After this kind of stuff, you can’t really trust anything that is in the book…

Worst perhaps, is that the authors advertise their “novel” technique in otherwise decent talks and conferences, such as the one from mathfinance. Here is a quote

Enforced Numerical Monotonicity (ENM) beats Jäckel’s implied volatility calculations – an implied vol calculator that never breaks and automatically fits vanilla option prices.

It is really unfortunate that the world we live in encourages such boasting. Papers always need to present some novel ideas to be published, but there is too often no check on whether the idea actually works, or is worth it. The temptation to make exagerated claims is very high for authors. In the end, it becomes not so easy to sort out the good from the bad.

Bad papers and the roots of high degree polynomials

I was wondering what were exactly the eigenvalues of the Mersenne-Twister random number generator transition matrix. An article by K. Savvidy sparked my interest on this. This article mentioned a poor entropy (sum of log of eigenvalues amplitudes which are greater than 1), with eigenvalues falling almost on the unit circle.

The eigenvalues are also the roots of the characteristic polynomial. It turns out, that for jumping ahead in the random number sequence, we use the characteristic polynomial. There is a twist however, we use it in F2 (modulo 2), for entropy, we are interested in the characteristic polynomial in Z (no modulo), specified in Appendix A of the Mersenne-Twister paper. The roots of the two polynomials are of course very different.

Now the degree of the polynomial is 19937, which is quite high. I searched for some techniques to compute quickly the roots, and found the paper “Efficient high degree polynomial root finding using GPU”, whose main idea is relatively simple: use the Aberth method, with a Gauss-Seidel like iteration (instead of a Jacobi like iteration) for parallelization. Numerical issues are supposedly handled by taking the log of the polynomial and its derivative in the formulae.

When I tried this, I immediately encountered numerical issues due to the limited precision of 64-bit floating point numbers. How to evaluate the log of the polynomial (and its derivative) in a stable way? It’s just not a simple problem at all. Furthermore, the method is not particularly fast either compared to some other alternatives, such as calling eigvals on the companion matrix, a formulation which tends to help avoiding limited precision issues. And it requires a very good initial guess (in my case, on the unit circle, anything too large blows up).

The authors in the paper do not mention which polynomials they actually have tested, only the degree of some “full polynomial” and some “sparse polynomial”, and claim their technique works with full polynomials of degree 1 000 000 ! This may be true for some very specific polynomial where the log gives an accurate value, but is just plain false for the general case.

I find it a bit incredible that this gets published, although I am not too surprised since the bar for publication is low for many journals (see this enlightening post by J. Healy), and even for more serious journals, referees almost never actually try the method in question, so they have to blindly trust the results and focus mostly on style/presentation of ideas.

Fortunately, some papers are very good, such as Fast and backward stable computation of roots of polynomials, Part II: backward error analysis; companion matrix and companion pencil. In this case, the authors even provide a library in Julia, so the claims can be easily verified, and without surprise, it works very well, and is (very) fast. It also supports multiple precision, if needed. For the specific case of the Mersenne-Twister polynomial, it leads to the correct entropy value, working only with 64-bit floats, even though many eigenvalues have a not-so-small error. It is still relatively fast (compared to a standard LinearAlgebra.eigvals) using quadruple precision (128-bits), and there, the error in the eigenvalues is small.

Overall, I found with this method an entropy of 10.492 (quite different from what is stated in K. Savvidy paper), although the plot of the distribution looks similar (but with a different scale: the total number of eigenvalues reported in K. Savvidy paper just does not add up to 19937, which is somewhat puzzling).If we look directly for the eigenvalues of the Mersenne-Twister transition matrix (Appendix A of the MT paper), we find 10.492 as well.

Distribution of the eigenvalues of the Mersenne-Twister.

Below is the Mersenne-Twister polynomial, expressed in Julia code. An earlier version of this post used the polynomial as stated in the paper, which is only valid under \(\mathbb{F}_2\). Below is the true characteristic polynomial in \(\mathbb{R}\).

using DynamicPolynomials
import AMRVW
using Quadmath

@polyvar t
n = 624
m = 397
cp = DynamicPolynomials.Polynomial((t^n-t^m)*(t^(n-1)-t^(m-1))^31-(t^n-t^m)*(t^(n-1)-t^(m-1))^30-(t^n-t^m)*(t^(n-1)-t^(m-1))^29-(t^n-t^m)*(t^(n-1)-t^(m-1))^28-(t^n-t^m)*(t^(n-1)-t^(m-1))^27-(t^n-t^m)*(t^(n-1)-t^(m-1))^26-(t^n-t^m)*(t^(n-1)-t^(m-1))^24-(t^n-t^m)*(t^(n-1)-t^(m-1))^23-(t^n-t^m)*(t^(n-1)-t^(m-1))^18-(t^n-t^m)*(t^(n-1)-t^(m-1))^17-(t^n-t^m)*(t^(n-1)-t^(m-1))^15-(t^n-t^m)*(t^(n-1)-t^(m-1))^11-(t^n-t^m)*(t^(n-1)-t^(m-1))^6-(t^n-t^m)*(t^(n-1)-t^(m-1))^3-(t^n-t^m)*(t^(n-1)-t^(m-1))^2-1)

c = zeros(Float128,[1])+1)
for te in terms(cp)
  c[] = coefficient(te)
v128 = AMRVW.roots(c)
sum(x -> log(abs(x)),filter(x -> abs(x) > 1, v128))

Disaster Capitalism - Summer Reading Review

Several years ago, I read the book No Logo from Naomi Klein. I did not find it particularly good, but it did raise a valid concern overall. This summer I read Shock Therapy - The rise of disaster capitalism. It suffers from some of the same flaws as No Logo, namely a lot of repetition of the same idea. Here, the underlying idea is that neoliberalism does not work in practice, and often ends up being some kind of corporatism. At the same time, it is suggested that some mild socialism is often much better for the people, although, the latter is not backed by concrete examples in the book. The former is backed by numerous documents, and is analyzed accross time and countries. It starts with Chili under Pinochet, the prototypical example that force is required to impose neoliberalism, then moves around South America in general, with some cases where a strong inflation, may be enough for the people to accept neoliberalism. Then it continues with China under Deng Xiao Ping, which I find a bit too much of a stretch to make a case about any kind of neoliberalism. Russia under Yeltsin is next, and it ends with the war in Irak and the USA.

The most interesting chapters are probably the first one, and the one about Irak. The first chapter explains the creation of the shock therapy treament by psychatrists and how it morphed to become a CIA “interrogation” technique. The chapter on Irak explains in details how people high up in the government reduced the public military staff/budget, and at the same time increased significantly the budget for contractors/external companies, which were closely linked to members of the government. It also makes you understand why it ended up being such a massive failure, even though it was presented as a Marshall plan for the middle east by the American government.

The worst chapters are definitely the introduction and the conclusion. The introduction is just not interesting, and the conclusion is saying that things are becoming better for the socialists, with the changes in South America (Chavez, Ecuador, Bolivia), all of which did not really stand the test of time, since the book was written.

Some annoying facts I found is that Milton Friedman is often made to be some sort of devil and Jeffrey Sachs is portrayed during the first half as his acolyte, and then he appears much more balanced when the author has an actual interview with him. The author however did not rewrite the previous chapters, so there is some sort of inconsistency there.

More annoying is that no positive aspect of neoliberalism ideas is presented, and socialism is often presented as a better alternative, without any proof. There are so many daily life examples that show where socialism is worse than liberalism. Recently, I had to contact a company for issues on my roof. The owner of this small company did not hesitate to say

“It is difficult to find people for this kind of job, because it is not always easy with the cold or the heat. People prefer to work at the city hall, where they are always three to do anything: one to carry the tools, one to watch, and one to actually do the work. In my company, we have to do everything alone”.

Another example that struck me recently is how bad are the school books. Although those are not written by the public workers, they need some sort of approval by those, and it ends up being a very small circle who can actually have those books accepted and distributed to schools. Only a few books are accepted and those will sell in the 10K+ quantity easily. In contrast, holiday children study books, which the parents are free to buy or not at any shop, are amazingly good. Indeed, if they were bad, almost nobody would buy them.

That being said, I don’t think liberalism is always good and socialism always bad either, there is probably a delicate balance somewhere.

More on random number generators

My previous post described the recent view on random number generators, with a focus on the Mersenne-Twister war.

Since, I have noticed another front in the war of the random number generators:

Also, I found interesting that Monte-Carlo simulations run at the Los Alamos National Laboratory relied on a relatively simple linear congruential generator (LCG) producing 24- or 48-bits integers for at least 40 years. LCGs are today touted as some of the worst random number generators, exhibiting strong patterns in 2D projections. Also the period chosen was very small by today’s standards: 7E13.

Regarding the integer to floating point numbers conversion, I remember somewhere reading someone arguing to generate numbers also close to 0 (with appropriate distribution) while most implementations just generate up to 2^-32 or 2^-53 (the latter being the machine epsilon). I see one major issue with the idea: if you stumble upon a tiny number (perhaps you’re unlucky) like 10^-100, then it may distort significantly your result (for example if you call the inverse cumulative normal to generate normal numbers and calculate the mean), because your sample size may not be not large enough to compensate. Perhaps for the same kind of reason, it may be better to use only 32 bits (or less bits). The consequence is that tail events are bound to be underestimated by computers. In a way this is similar to Sobol, which generates with a precision of 2^-L, for 2^L - 1 samples.

Finally, some personal tests convinced me that a very long period, such as the one in MT, may not be a good idea, as, in the case of MT, the generator is then slower to recover from a bad state. For Well19337a, it may take 5000 numbers and the excess-0 state is very pronounced (period of 2^19937-1). While this is way better than the old MersenneTwister (the newer dSFMT is also much better, around twice slower than Well19937a in terms of recovery), which requires more than 700 000 numbers to recover from the bad state, it may still be problematic in some cases. For example, if you are particularly unlucky, and pick a bad choice of initial state (which may actually have good properties in terms of number of 0 bits and 1 bits) and your simulation is of small size (16K o even 64K numbers), there may be visible an impact of this excess-0 state on the simulation results. For Well1024a (period of 2^1024-1), full bit balance recovery takes around 500 numbers and the excess-0 state is much much milder so as to be a non-issue really.

Example with a manufactured by seed to go into excess-0 state.

Below is an example of (manufactured) bad seed for Well19937a, which will lead to excess-0 state after ~1000 numbers, and lasts ~3000 numbers.

 int[] seed = { 1097019443, 321950666, -1456208324, -695055366, -776027098, 1991742627, 1792927970, 1868278530,
                456439811, 85545192, -1102958393, 1274926688, 876782718, -775511822, 1563069059, 1325885775, 1463966395,
                2088490152, 382793542, -2132079651, 1612448076, -1831549496, 1925428027, 2056711268, 108350926,
                1369323267, 149925491, 1803650776, 614382824, 2065025020, 1307415488, -535412012, -1628604277,
                1678678293, -516020113, -1021845340, -793066208, -802524305, -921860953, -1163555006, -1922239490,
                1767557906, -759319941, -245934768, 939732201, -455619338, 1110635951, -86428700, 1534787893,
                -283404203, 227231030, -313408533, 556636489, -673801666, 710168442, 870157845, 1109322330, -1059935576,
                -513162043, 1192536003, -1602508674, 1246446862, 1913473951, 1960859271, 782284340, 122481381,
                -562235323, 202010478, -221077141, -1910492242, -138670306, -2038651468, 664298925, -156597975,
                -48624791, 1658298950, 802966298, -85599391, -406693042, 1340575258, 1456716829, -1747179769,
                1499970781, 1626803166, -687792918, -1283063527, 733224784, 193833403, -230689121, 775703471, 808035556,
                337484408, -518187168, -2136806959, -2115195080, -2137532162, 873637610, 216187601, -477469664,
                -1324444679, 1339595692, 378607523, 2100214039, 701299050, -178243691, 1858430939, 1595015688,
                2139167840, 500034546, -1316251830, 1619225544, 1075598309, 1300570196, -327879940, 414752857,
                -145852840, -1287095704, 355046097, 886719800, -20251033, 1202484569, -96793140, 1846043325, 1192691985,
                928549445, 2049152139, -1431689398, 348315869, -1582112142, -1867019110, 808920631, -342499619,
                -1714951676, 279967346, 385626112, 416794895, -578394455, -1827493006, -2020649044, -396940876,
                937037281, -385129309, -1905687689, -526697401, -1362989274, 1111153207, 27104439, 115923124,
                -1759234934, 495392989, 1848408810, 655641704, 1484391560, 128171526, -91609018, 647891731, 1451120112,
                882107541, 1391795234, -1635408453, 936540423, 564583769, 379407298, -1829214977, 1416544842, 81232193,
                -936231221, 1193495035, 1076101894, 860381190, 728390389, -511922164, -1588243268, -142612440,
                1018644290, 292363137, 475075683, -2071023028, -1224051451, -891502122, 1575411974, -123928662,
                1080946339, 962151951, -1309758596, -558497752, -2126110624, -73575762, -2078269964, -676979806,
                -1165971705, 557833742, -828399554, -1023609625, -482198028, 1700021748, 25284256, -826748852,
                -2139877059, -1280388862, -1521749976, 738911852, -1676794665, -1595369910, -748407377, -709662760,
                680897802, 2094081, -1889225549, -1101409768, -1620191266, 506408464, 1833777989, 244154307,
                -1406840497, -860371799, 1337820797, 614831742, 1965416365, 2044401180, -459642558, -339576217,
                -1599807697, -689958382, 1544444702, 872938368, 871179645, -957732397, 958439335, -770544793,
                -1363785888, -1484683703, 2021823060, -1871739595, -1355536561, -926333946, -1552155978, -171673777,
                993986110, -727417527, 1065139863, 517970706, -453434939, -424362471, 1823459056, -48408572, 863024600,
                190046576, 90264753, 1667010014, -529079929, -1269908431, -2073435303, -1123302722, -1986096205,
                -173411290, -693808986, -1618071944, 990740121, 2120678917, -203702980, -1186456799, -776433190,
                172239859, 126482680, 2048550654, 266718714, 913094204, -937686511, -2096719726, 627687384, 533376951,
                -1413352057, 1900628390, -244457985, 896712029, -1232645079, 1109406070, 1857772786, 86662738,
                -488754308, 360849611, 1187200060, -341213227, 1705204161, -121052077, 1122608367, 2118749875,
                243072462, 204425155, 1386222650, 2037519370, 93424131, -785650065, 45913153, -448515509, -1312863705,
                -834086187, -2101474931, 1478985081, 1288703145, -1705562554, -1758416930, 1440392126, 1783362885,
                279032867, -610479214, 223124643, -367215836, 2140908029, -780932174, 581404379, -1741002899,
                2035577655, -1060511248, 1765488586, -380048770, 1175692479, -1645645388, 1865881815, 2052353285,
                -492798850, -1250604575, -2077294162, 1768141964, 1457680051, -141958370, -1333097647, -285257998,
                -2063867587, 1338868565, -304572592, -1272025276, 1687010269, -1301492878, -931017010, -1303123181,
                -1963883357, 1920647644, 2009096326, 2094563567, 1137063943, -1003295201, -382759268, 1879016739,
                -153929025, -1008981939, -646846913, 1209637755, 1560292706, 725377476, -1457854811, 264360697,
                -197926409, -908579207, -894726681, 194950082, -1631939812, 1620763228, -659722026, 208285727,
                1389336301, -1900616308, 1690406628, 1688632068, -717888847, -1202067733, -2039964596, 1885630763,
                475497380, -488949843, -1679189364, -1358405375, 2132723, -1164703873, -1727721852, 1747612544,
                -885752188, -1450470713, 791640674, 996275741, 397386006, -1977069145, -1841011156, -431458913,
                47865163, 1200765705, 1962743423, 1933688124, -1165500082, -1969953200, 597796878, 1379082884,
                -737292673, 1776141019, 1882257528, -991388501, -1357999809, 497686068, 314237824, -882469634,
                2142408833, -1624234776, -292985482, -412114618, 380982413, -1351123340, 1799246791, 491394003,
                496521378, 1074735076, 1131599274, -1379708840, -256028322, 118705543, 58715272, -449189848, 35299724,
                -1440805390, -893785929, 217256482, 640658194, -1786418454, 1111743603, -2027083091, 2022760758,
                -1001437881, -202791246, 636755388, 1243592208, 1858140407, 1909306942, 1350401794, 188044116,
                1740393120, -2013242769, 207311671, 1861876658, -962016288, -865105271, -15675046, -1273011788, 9226838,
                906253170, -1561651292, -300491515, -409022139, 611623625, 1529503331, 943193131, -1180448561, 88712879,
                1630557185, -17136268, -1208615326, 428239158, 256807260, -918201512, 2022301052, -1365374556,
                -877812100, 2029921285, -1949144213, 2053000545, -563019122, 224422509, 741141734, -1881066890,
                -280201419, 1959981692, 302762817, 477313942, 358330821, -1944532523, -980437107, -1520441951,
                -613267979, -1540746690, -1180123782, -1604767026, 1407644227, -926603589, 1418723393, 2045743273,
                -309117167, 949946922, -105868551, -487483019, 1715251004, -221593655, 2116115055, -1676820052,
                394918360, -2111378352, 1723004967, -224939951, -730823623, -200901038, -2133041681, 1627616686,
                -637758336, -1423029387, 1400407571, 861573924, 1521965068, -614045374, 412378545, 2056842579,
                -225546161, 1660341981, 1707828405, -513776239, -115981255, -1996145379, -2009573356, 44694054,
                616913659, 1268484348, -980797111, -464314672, 1545467677, 174095876, -1260470858, 1508450002,
                1730695676, -613360716, 2086321364, -144957473, 202989102, 54793305, -1011767525, 2017450362,
                -761618523, 1572980186, -138358580, 1111304359, 1367056877, 1231098679, 2088262724, 1767697297,
                -921727838, 1743091870, 974339502, 1512597341, -1908845304, 1632152668, -987957372, 1394083911,
                433477830, 579364091, -27455347, -772772319, -478108249, 641973067, -1629332352, 1599105133, 1191519125,
                862581799, -850973024, -188136014, -398642147, 513836556, 1899961764, 2110036944, 512068782,
                -1988800041, -2054857386, 321551840, -1717823978, -1311127543, 373759091, 71650043, 565005405,
                1033674609, 1344695234, 709315126, 1711256293, -1226183001, -1451283945, 628494029, 1635747262,
                -689919247, 1091991202, 1283978365, 749078685, 1987661236, 1992010052, -2003794364, 2099683431,
                267011343, -1326783466, 678839392, -312043613, 1565061780, 178873340, -719911279, -314555472,
                -231514590, 161027711, 1080368165, 1660461722, -337050383, 399572447, -1555785489, -1502682588,
                2143158964, 592925741, -980213649, -724779906, 395465301, 635561967, 700445106, 1198493979, 1707436053,
                149364933, -1767142986, 1950272542, -819076405, 687992680, 1960992977, 1342528780, -2110840904,
                340172712, -486861654 };

The war of the random number generators

These days, there seems to be some sort of small war to define what is a modern good random number generators to advise for simulations. Historically, the Mersenne-Twister (MT thereafter) won this war. It is used by default in many scientific libraries and software, even if there has been a few issues with it:

  1. A bad initial seed may make it generate a sequence of low quality for at least as many as 700K numbers.
  2. It is slow to jump-ahead, making parallelization not so practical.
  3. It fails some TestU01 Bigcrush tests, mostly related to the F2 linear algebra, the algebra of the Mersenne-Twister.

It turns out, that before MT (1997), a lot of the alternatives were much worse, except, perhaps, RANLUX (1993), which is quite slow due to the need of skipping many points of the generated sequence.

The first issue has been mostly solved by more modern variants such as MT-64 or Well19937a or Memt19997. The warm-up needed has been thus significantly shortened, and a better seed initialization is present in those algorithms. It is not clear however that it has been fully solved, as there are very few studies analyzing the quality with many different seeds, I found only a summary of one test, p.7 of this presentation.

The second issue may be partly solved by considering a shorter period, such as in the Well1024 generator.

The third issue may or may not be a real issue in practice. Those tests can be seen as taylored to make MT (and F2 algebra based generators) fail and not be all that practical. However, Vigna exposes the problem on some more concrete examples in his recent paper. The title of this paper has the provocative title It Is High Time We Let Go Of The Mersenne Twister. Before that paper, Vigna and her arch-enemy O’Neil, regularly advised to let go of the Mersenne-Twister and use a generator they created instead. For Vigna, the generator is some variant of xorshift, the most recent being xoroshiro256**, and for O’Neil, it is one of her numerous PCG algorithms. In both cases, a flurry of generators is proposed, and it seems that a lot of them are poor (Vigna criticizes strongly PCG on his personal page and O’Neil does something similar against xorshift variants sometimes with the help of Lemire). The recommended choice for each has evolved over the years. For a reader or a user, it looks then that both are risky/unproven. The authors of MT recently also added their own opinion on a specific xorshift variant (xorshift128+), with their papers *Again, random numbers fall mainly in the planes: xorshift128+ generators* and *Pseudo random number generators: attention for a newly proposed generator *. An important insight of that latter paper, is to insist that it is not enough to pass a good test suite like BigCrush for a generator to be good.

So what is recommended then?

A good read on the subject is another paper, with the title Pseudorandom Number Generation: Impossibility and Compromise, also from the MT authors, explaining the challenge of defining what is a good random number generator. It ignores however the MRG family of generator studied by L’Ecuyer, whose MRG32k3a is also relatively widely used, and has been there for a while now without any obvious defect against it being proven (good track record). This generator has a relatively fast jump-ahead, which is one of the reasons why it regained popularity with the advent of GPUs and does not fail TestU01 BigCrush. It is a bit slower than MT, but not much, especially with this implementation from Vigna (3x faster than original double based implementation).

There are not many studies on block based crypto-generator such as AES or Chacha for simulation, which become a bit more trendy (thanks to Salmons paper) as they are trivial use in a parallel Monte-Carlo simulation (jump-ahead as fast as generation of one number). In theory the uniformity should be good, since otherwise that would be a channel of attack.

The conclusion of the presentation referenced earlier in this post, is also very relevant:

  • use the best sequential generators (i.e. MT, MRG32k3a or some Well),
  • test the stochastic variability by changing generator,
  • do not parallelize by inputing different seeds (prefer a jump-ahead or a tested substream approach).

Sobol with 64-bits integers

A while ago, I wondered how to make some implementation of Sobol support 64-bits integers (long) and double floating points. Sobol is the most used quasi random number generator (QRNG) for (quasi) Monte-Carlo simulations.

The standard Sobol algorithms are all coded with 32-bits integers and lead to double floating point numbers which can not be smaller than \( 2^{-31} \). I was recently looking back at the internals at Sobol generators, and noticed that generating with 64-bits integers would not help much.

A key to understanding why is to analyze exactly what is the output that Sobol generates. If one asks for a sequence of N numbers (in dimension D), the output will be a multiple of \( 2^{-L} \) where L is the log-2 of N. The 32 bits only become useful when \( N > 2^{31} \). An implementation with 64-bit integers becomes only useful if we query an extremely long sequence (longer than 1 billion numbers), which is not all that practical in reality. Furthermore, the direction numbers would then require double the amount of memory (which may be relatively large for 20K dimensions).

Another interesting detail I learnt recently was to avoid skipping the first point, when scrambling (or randomization) is applied, as per this article from Owen (2020). In a non-randomized or non-scrambled setting, we skip the first point typically because it is 0, and 0 is often problematic, for example if we need to take the inverse cumulative distribution function, to simulate a specific distribution. What I find slightly surprising is that there is no symmetry between 1 and 0: the point (1, 1) is never generated by a two-dimensional Sobol generator, but (0, 0) is the first number. If we apply some sort of inverse cumulative distribution (and no scrambling), it looks like then the result would be skewed towards negative infinity.

Intel failure and the future of computing

What has been happening to the INTC stock today may be revealing of the future. The stock dropped more than 16%, mainly because they announced that their 7nm process does not work (well) and they may rely on an external foundry for their processors. Initially, in 2015, they thought they would have 8nm process by 2017, and 7nm by 2018. They are more than 3 years late.

Intel used to be a leader in the manufacturing process for microprocessor. While the company has its share of internal problems, it may also be that we are starting to hit the barrier, where it becomes very difficult to improve on the existing. The end of Moore’s law has been announced many times, it was already a subject 20 years ago. Today, it may be real, if there is only a single company capable of manufacturing processor using a 5nm process (TSMC).

It will be interesting to see what this means for software in general. I suppose clever optimizations and good parallelization may start playing a much more important role. Perhaps we will see also more enthusiasm towards specialized processors, somewhat similar to GPUs and neural network processors.

March 9, 2020 crash - where will CAC40 go?

The stock market crashed by more than 7% on March 9, 2020. It is one of the most important drop since September 2001. I looked at BNP warrant prices on the CAC40 French index, with a maturity of March 20, 2020 , to see what they would tell about the market direction on the day of the crash. This is really a not-so-scientific experiment.

The quotes I got were quite noisy. I applied a few different techniques to imply the probability density from the option prices:

  • The one-step Andreasen-Huge with some regularization. The regularization is a bit too mild, although, in terms of implied vol, this was the worst fit among the techniques.
  • The stochastic collocation towards a septic polynomial, no regularization needed here. The error in implied volatilities is similar to Andreasen-Huge, even though the implied density is much smoother. I however discovered a small issue with the default optimal monotonic fit, and had to tweak a little bit the optimal polynomial, more on this later in this post.
  • Some RBF collocation of the implied vols. Best fit, with regularization, and very smooth density, which however becomes negative in the high strikes.
  • Some experimental Andreasen-Huge like technique, with a minimal grid and good regularization.

Implied probability density for March 20, CAC40 warrants.

The implied forward price was around 4745.5. Interestingly, this corresponds to the first small peak visible on the blue and red plots. The strongest peak is located a little beyond 5000, which could mean that the market believes that the index will go back up above 5000. This does not mean that you should buy however, as there are other, more complex explanations. For example, the peak could be a latent phenomenon related to the previous days.

Now here is how the plot is with the “raw” optimal collocation polynomial:

Implied probability density for March 20, CAC40 warrants with raw optimal polynomial collocation.

Notice the spurious peak. In terms of implied volatility, this corresponds to a strange, unnatural angle in the smile. The reason for this unnatural peak lies in the details of the stochastic collocation technique: the polynomial we fit is monotonic, but ends up with slope close to zero at some point in order to better fit the data. If the slope is exactly zero, there is a discontinuity in the density. Here the very low slope tranlates to the peak. The fix is simply to impose a floor on the slope (although it may not be obvious in advance to know how much this floor should be).

Collocation polynomials for March 20, CAC40 warrants.

And for the curious, here are the implied vol plots:

Implied vol fits for March 20, CAC40 warrants.


Today my 6-years old son came with a math homework. The stated goal was to learn the different ways to make 10 out of smaller numbers. I was impressed. Immediately, I wondered

how many ways are there to make 10 out of smaller numbers?

This is one of the beauties of maths: a very simple problem, which a 6-years old can understand, may actually be quite fundamental. If you want to solve this in the general case, for any number instead of 10, you end up with the partition function. And in order to find this, you will probably learn recurrence relations. So what is the answer for 10?


Then I looked at one exercise they did in class, which was simply to find different ways to pay 10 euros with bills of 10, 5 and coins of 2 and 1 euro(s).

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