The creator of a curious encryption technology was heckled on stage during a bizarre presentation at the recent Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas, and now the company has filed suit against the conference organisers for allowing them to be roasted.
At the event, Crown Sterling founder Robert Grant gave a sponsored talk titled “The 2019 Discovery of Quasi-Prime Numbers: What Does This Mean For Encryption?” which was based on a paper he co-wrote and during which he promoted his company’s “Time AI” technology.
So what is Time AI? A strange Crown Sterling explainer video somehow makes the concept seem even more confusing.
The video uses mystical libertarian language to describe the company’s approach to cryptography. “Academic researchers believe this discovery may be the key to unlocking a new unified physics cosmology — a theory of everything,” the video claims. “Now is the time for a new adaptive encryption—granting you security and full control of your digital individuality. A new paradigm of data sovereignty made possible only with time. Time AI is an entirely new classification in data privacy called quantum encryption.”
Black Hat attendees heckled the presentation, and researchers lambasted the company on social media.
— JP Aumasson (@veorq) August 8, 2019
Motherboard reported at the time that Black Hat responded to the backlash by removing mention of the presentation from its website. “Content discussed in Black Hat sponsored sessions are determined by the individual sponsor, however, we are working to implement a stronger vetting process moving forward to avoid this happening in the future,” a Black Hat spokesperson told Motherboard.
Before the Black Hat presentation, a cryptographer and former Facebook employee Steve Weis told Motherboard the company “look like scam artists.”
As Ars Technica reports, Crown Sterling fired back last week by filing a lawsuit to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleging that the conference organiser broke its agreement with Crown Sterling. It complains that Black Hat allowed attendees to interfere with the talk, which Crown Sterling paid $US115,000 ($169,771) in order to present.
The filing asserts that when Crown Sterling purchased the highest sponsorship package, it entrusted Black Hat to treat Crown Sterling with respect, but instead the conference organisers, “looked the other way when a small group of detractors staged a coordinated harassment of Crown Sterling’s scheduled talk, which was part of its sponsorship package.”
In a phone conversation, Grant told Gizmodo that the security industry is responding negatively to this company and its research because it isn’t ready for the change he’s trying to incite.
“I think there’s quite a bit of fake news that’s gone on here. And you know the fact is this is a very disruptive concept. And if anything we probably underestimated the amount of industry concern that would get generated as a result of this. But hey, it is what it is,” Grant told Gizmodo. “Sure, I don’t come from the academic field. I have an MBA. I studied finance. But I’ve always been very intrigued by number theory and I’ve worked a lot in physics.”
Pressed to explain Time AI in layman terms without marketing jargon, Grant told Gizmodo it is “an AI-driven non-factoring-based encryption technology that relies on rapid oscillations of numbers that are rational maths constants at very high speed.”
Black Hat did not immediately respond to Gizmodo requests for comment, but a spokesperson for Black Hat organiser, UBM, told Ars Technica: “We are aware of the press release stating that a complaint has been filed and have no further comment at this time.”
The suit also names 10 “Doe” defendants who the company alleges disparaged and defamed the company at the Black Hat event.
“This small group of detractors used this staged ‘event’ to initiate a smear campaign on social media during the conference and immediately after,” the lawsuit asserts. “In that campaign, these detractors defamed Crown Sterling, questioning both its integrity and its cryptography solutions, which they described in one publication as ‘Snake Oil Crypto.’”