Company that was laughed off-stage sues Black Hat

Graham Cluley
Graham Cluley
@[email protected]

Company that was laughed off-stage sues Black Hat
Earlier this month, at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas, a company called Crown Sterling gave a talk entitled “The 2019 Discovery of Quasi-Prime Numbers: What Does This Mean For Encryption?”

Crown Sterling got to speak at Black Hat because it had purchased a “gold” sponsorship package – meaning its talk had not been peer-reviewed or vetted for quality.

And clearly, as the company’s presenter regaled the audience with talk of “infinite wave conjugations” and “quasi prime numbers”, not everyone was impressed.

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Amid heckles and boos directed at Crown Sterling’s spokesperson Robert E. Grant, conference staff ejected some members of the audience from the room.

Having paid $115,000 for its gold sponsorship, one imagines that this isn’t the kind of reaction Crown Sterling was hoping to receive.

Instead, it was an ignominious day for Crown Sterling, as it attempted to launch its new “TIME AI” product which it claimed represented “a paradigm shift in data encryption.”

We discussed the controversial talk and – more specificially – the audience’s reaction in a recent episode of the “Smashing Security” podcast:

Smashing Security #141: 'Black Hat and Bridezillas'

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Black Hat responded to negative media reporting of the quality of the talk by removing details of it from its website.

Well, what happened in Vegas didn’t stay in Vegas, and now the organisers of the Black Hat conference are being sued by Crown Sterling.

As Ars Technica reports, a federal lawsuit alleges that Black Hat USA breached “its sponsorship agreement with Crown Sterling and the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing arising therefrom.”

Crown Sterling goes on to accuse the conference organizers of “other wrongful conduct” connected to events surrounding the presentation of a paper by Crown Sterling CEO and founder Robert E. Grant. In addition to legally targeting the conference, Crown Sterling has also filed suit against 10 “Doe” defendants, who it claims orchestrated a disruption of the company’s sponsored talk at Black Hat.

One thing is for certain, this whole episode has generated more publicity for Crown Sterling and TIME AI than a regular sponsored talk at Black Hat would ever normally have received.

And now they’ve created an even bigger deal about it. Whether this is going to end up as a positive thing or not for Crown Sterling is an entirely different question – I wonder if they’ve ever heard of the Streisand effect?

Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

4 comments on “Company that was laughed off-stage sues Black Hat”

  1. Myopia

    I guess this boils down to a simple contention. Crown Sterling thought they'd bought a compliant audience, while Black Hat believes they simply sold a speaking slot (along with some other sponsorship perks).

    I cannot see how Crown Sterling can with this (or even remain viable in the face of hacker ridicule).

  2. Paul Swengler

    Wow. Where to begin?

    The video graphic is some of the best eye candy seen lately; absolutely beautiful and likely cost a lot of money. Too bad it is totally irrelevant, jammed with jargon and devoid of information. It reminds me so of the movie "Tron". Likely most of the black hat folks are technologically savvy and listened to the jargon and asked for real data. Likely also they got jargon and hype from marketing.

    In this case the AI in Crown Sterling AI likely means Aggregated Ignorance which explains the outrage. Had they stayed to simplicity and said we figured out how to add a time factor to encryption (is it patented?) but "Quantum AI", really?

    Candidly, it sounds similar to a pump-and-dump stock scam. Get lots of media attention, watch the price rise sell stock and then collapse.

    Thanks Graham, I had heard about it but you brought it together in a quick blog. Yup the Streisand effect!

    1. Graham CluleyGraham Cluley · in reply to Paul Swengler

      Yeah, the video gave us a few giggles when we recording the podcast. :)

  3. Jason

    Can you say Theranos? Snapping its fingers like Thanos. The judge will send their claims home in a Thermos.

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