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*COMPREHENSIVE INVESTIGATION: CROWN STERLING – Bona Fide or Fraud?? No specific details about its Time AI product or how to implement it have been released. And CEO Robert Grant is involved with parascience, including conference starting today in Newport Beach…….

When Crown Sterling presented its new “discovery” at a private event at the Pelican Hill Resort in Newport Beach on September 19, CEO Robert Grant said this was the first time this information was being released publicly.

It wasn’t.

Crown Sterling, which describes itself as an “emerging digital cryptography company,” had already gotten heckled by a competitor in August at a presentation at Black Hat 2019 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas.

Crown Sterling then sued the venue operator, UBM, for allowing its code of conduct to be violated.

All this transpired before Crown Sterling made its OC debut.

The company, which has made a lot of claims of how it can protect your data, was part of an “Innovation Week,” organized by Mark Cofano.

Crown Sterling did not provide any specific details about its Time AI product during the presentation. The product has not even been released yet.

A network security expert at UCSD has called Crown Sterling a scam and “litigious fraudulent fuckwits.”

Grant is involved in parascience, as you will see below.

Parascience is the study of subjects that are outside the scope of, or phenomena that is not recognized to exist by, the natural and social sciences because their occurrence is not established and cannot be explained by accepted scientific theory, or because it cannot be tested by conventional scientific methods.

What follows is a comprehensive investigation of Crown Sterling from every angle, and there are an abundance of angles to investigate.

I sent Crown Sterling more than 20 questions to answer. They declined to answer any of them.

This comprehensive investigation is written in a simple Q&A format…

What is Crown Sterling?

It describes itself as an “emerging digital cryptography company” on its website. It has 11-50 employees, according to its LinkedIn page.

It describes its yet-to-be-released product, Time AI, like this on its website:

TIME AI™ is designed to wrap around your data and applications, securing our most precious personal resources. It also provides a comprehensive feed of what websites and apps are trying to access your data.

Time AI is intended for the consumer, enterprise and government markets.

What are some of the claims Grant and Crown Sterling have made?

Grant claimed that Crown Sterling has cracked the RSA code, which is based on 256-bit encryption.

The company also claims that Time AI will “fix the breakable-ness of RSA cryptography by using an entirely different method of generating keys, one that doesn’t rely on factoring large prime numbers. Time AI is intended to resist cracking even by advanced quantum computing technology—which has concerned cryptographers because of its potential to more rapidly perform algorithms capable of solving the difficult math problems that cryptography relies on,” according to an article in Ars Technica.

Why would that be significant?

Because, in this day and age, encryption is used to protect a multiplicity of things, including very private things, like banking.

What else has Grant claimed?

His bio on the Crown Sterling website says he’s made “discoveries of quasi-prime numbers (a new classification for prime numbers), the world’s first predictive algorithm determining infinite prime numbers, and a unification wave-based theory connecting and correlating fundamental mathematical constants such as Pi, Euler, Alpha, Gamma and Phi.”

What was the paper about that Grant and Talal Ghannam published?

The connection between electromagnetism and gravity. A number theory approach, related to the number 24, according to the Ars Technica article.

Who is Talal Ghannam?

Ghannam is a former assistant professor at King Saud University. He holds a PhD in physics, currently works as a ‘physicist and data science consultant’ for Crown Sterling, and was previously a science consultant for Grant’s Strathspey Crown. Ghannam has also self-published a book called The Mystery of Numbers: Revealed through their Digital Root, as well as a comic book about the Crusades called The Chronicles of Maroof the Knight: The Byzantine,” according to the Ars Technica article.

Was this paper peer reviewed?

No. They did this through arXiv, part of Cornell University. arXiv does not publish papers in the traditional sense; it does not do peer review.

It’s a moderated repository for rapid dissemination of research, Jim Entwood, arXiv Operations Manager, told OC Startups Now.

What claims did Grant make about Facebook at his Newport Beach presentation?

Grant claimed Time AI can encrypt messages among Facebook users, without Facebook’s permission, so that even Facebook wouldn’t be able to read them. Time AI would be used within devices, such as a Facebook user’s smart phone.

He provided no validation that this would be true. This was one of the follow-up questions OC Startups Now asked Grant, which he declined to answer.

OC Startups Now reached out to Facebook’s press department twice to confirm Grant’s claim about this. As of press time, it had not heard back from Facebook.

Is it even possible to predict prime numbers?

No, according to this researcher, who studied number theory in college and in the Ph.D. math program at MIT. Here’s what he wrote:

So I can tell you that prime number prediction is not really a thing. Prime numbers obey certain patterns just by virtue of their not having factors, but there is no way to predict them. You can statistically predict their distribution, and you can prove some facts about them, but there is no way to predict them. (I might also mention that the computational challenge of identifying primes and prime factors is the basis for all modern cryptography, so if there was an easy way to predict which numbers were prime, the whole basis of cryptography would collapse. You can imagine how much effort has gone into that question as a result.)”

What do AI experts have to say about Crown Sterling’s claims?

This is from Kevin Howard, the CEO of AWM Smart Shelf in Irvine. He is referring to a section of this article, which has curated a multiplicity of skeptics of Crown Sterling.

The part of the article he’s agreeing with is from Paragon Initiative Enterprises,@ParagonIE, which wrote:

256-bit RSA keys do not offer 256 bits of security. 256-bit AES keys do.Charlatans often like to exploit this discrepancy. … When someone demonstrates breaking 256-bit RSA, they’re trying to impress you by exploiting this confusion.If you want 256 bits of RSA security, you need 15360-bit keys. Which are impractical and slow.The cost to break 256-bit AES is on the order of magnitude of the energy released by a billion supernovae.”

Howard told OC Startups Now this:

I think the excerpt from the article does a good job of identifying why it sounds significant but it reality isn’t. When I’ve worked with RSA keys, I’ve typically seen 2048 or 4096 bit, which are both drastically larger than what was cracked here (256 / 512). That being said, if I were to look into it more, perhaps there is something they have discovered to weaken it, but at quick glance doesn’t sound noteworthy.”

See a recent article about AWM Smart Shelf here.

What do network security experts have to say about this ?

This is what Nicholas Weaver, a senior researcher in networking and security, who’s currently a visiting researcher at UCSD, a member of ICSI’s network security team, a co-developer of the Netalyzr system, and a co-winner of the FCC Open Internet Research Challenge, told OC Startups Now:

Their recent demonstration made it clear they are outright frauds. With the amount of feedback they’ve gotten they can’t hide behind the notion that they are just delusionary.

For this demonstration they selected a RSA key size, 256b, which is not only trivially breakable but deliberately chosen to deceive: people see 256b and they think AES, but ‘256b strength’ RSA is 3096b long.

And even then they rigged their demo, not doing it on a laptop but SSH’ing into a 32-core server and it appears that they didn’t even implement their own factoring algorithm but just used cado-nfs with most (but not all) of the default printing removed.

I suspect that the scam is simply looking for accredited investors at this point, as their presentation is so hopelessly bad that they can’t hope to sell their snake oil to actual companies.

And I also wonder how many other Strathspey Crown companies are similar frauds.” (Crown Sterling is an independent company. It is not one of the 15 subsidiaries of Crown Strathspey).

In a recent tweet, Weaver called Crown Sterling “litigious fraudulent fuckwits.”

Who is Robert Grant?

His bio on LinkedIn shows Harvard Business School up top. If you scroll all the way down to the “Education” section, it shows that he received his MBA from the Thunderbird School of Global Management and that he attended the President’s Seminar at Harvard Business School from 2009 – 2016.

Grant, 50, is also the founder and chairman of Concierge Key Health, an on-demand app to the world’s “elite” physician specialists.

And, he’s the founder and vice chairman of Alphaeon, a subsidiary of Strathspey Crown. Read more about Strathspey Crown below.

He was formerly the CEO of Bausch and Lomb Surgical. And, after that, he led Allergan Medical as president from 2006 to 2010.

Grant said he helped launch Botox at Allergan. He touted his “branding” credentials during his presentation at Pelican Hill.

What are his affiliations?

He’s also a member of the Resonance Science Foundation’s board of directors.

The foundation is a global nonprofit based on Nassim Haramein’s unified field theory. Its goal is “to create a world where humanity’s technological and social systems are in harmonious relationship with nature, earth and the cosmos,” according to its website.

See more about the foundation here.

Grant’s bio with the foundation here.

He’s also a speaker at the 11th Conference on Precession and Ancient Knowledge, starting today in Newport Beach. This conference is being presented by the Binary Research Institute in Newport Beach.

This is part of the description of the event:

Ancient cultures around the world believed that consciousness and history move in a vast cycle of time, with alternating Dark and Golden Ages – Plato called it the Great Year. Today, we know it as one “precession of the equinox,” an obscure astronomical motion, and consider the Golden Age to be just a myth.

Grant is described on the speaker page as a “genius inventor with an eye for patterns hidden within the fabrics of reality.”

What happened in Las Vegas did not stay in Las Vegas:

From the same researcher referenced above: “Crown Sterling paid $115,000 to be a Gold Sponsor of Black Hat USA. That sponsorship included delivering a sponsored, promoted talk. After that talk, audience members stood up and derided the company’s CEO; the ridicule continued on Twitter.”

Then, later in August, Crown Sterling sued UBM, the owner and organizer of the Black Hat USA 2019 Cryptography Industry Conference

From the researcher: “Crown Sterling’s method is based on mathematics. Mathematical proof is not a squishy concept…all the experts say it’s bullshit.”

What is Mark Cofano’s relation to Crown Sterling?

Crown Sterling did not respond to the question of whether Cofano has an equity stake in Crown Sterling, and if so, how much.

Cofano told OC Startups Now after the Newport Beach event that he’s a paid advisor to Crown Sterling, and that Crown Sterling is a client of his company, Cofano Ventures.

Who did I contact before I attended this event, as part of Cofano’s “Innovation Week”?

In May, long before the Crown Sterling presentation in Newport Beach, when Cofano first sent me info about his “Innovation Week,” I reached out to Neal Bloom, via LinkedIn.

Bloom describes himself as a “ecosystem and company builder” and said he was planning his own “OC Startups Week.” He has not since provided any info about this.

Bloom has since started his own newsletter aggregating already-published articles about OC startups and innovation, along with deals and job openings.

Bloom recently told OC Startups Now that he had a 20-minute call four months ago with Cofano regarding Cofano’s plans for an “Innovation Week” in San Diego.

“He told me his idea,” Bloom said “It sounded pretty different as to how I approach a startup conference. Then, I got busy. And it just fell off my radar. (Cofano) said he was looking for leaders in San Diego to run it.”’

Cofano is now planning his San Diego “Innovation Week” for April 27 – May 2, 2020 according to this website.

Also, in the days leading up to the event in September, OC Startups Now reached out to UCI Applied Innovation, UCI’s innovation platform and OCTANe, a multi-faceted organization with a tech and life sciences accelerator.

A spokesperson from UCI Applied Innovation said she was not familiar with Innovation Week.

Bill Carpou, CEO of OCTANe, said Cofano had reached out to him.

What happened at the Crown Sterling presentation in Newport Beach last month, in the evening (there was an “academic” presentation in the afternoon)?

From the official invitation for the private, closed event:

“These groundbreaking mathematical and technological findings have the power to transform the world we live in, now and in the future. If you are a technologist, scientist or educator, please attend our Academic Briefing and learn the deeper details. If you are responsible for IT Security and business outcomes please also attend the Business Launch to learn how these findings will impact these landscapes.”

Grant gave this presentation. Check it out here on YouTube.

This press release was issued about the event the next day.

What were some of the reactions of others who attended the private event in Newport Beach on September 19?

From consumer privacy advocate/expert and author Mari Frank, who’s based in Laguna Niguel:

I’m not a mathematician and not an expert in encryption or cybersecurity I do very much appreciate the goals of Crown Sterling – to put consumers in control of their sensitive data. So I’m hopeful that Crown Sterling will fulfill its objectives and give consumers a user- friendly way to protect their privacy by encrypting their sensitive information on every platform.

I’ve read the various perspectives and articles and my view is this – the proof is in the pudding. Let’s see if they can do what they say they can do. If Crown Sterling fulfills its vision, it would be great for all of us consumers, and it would also help companies and agencies to avoid legal challenges due to security breaches and other cyber-intrusions.”

From Leon Kotovich, the CEO of TerraManta, an AI startup in Irvine that examines how geopolitical factors influence global commodities prices:

Any approach to accelerate the process of factoring massive prime numbers commonly used in RSA-based encryption algorithm is worth examining. However, the usage of RSA usage in Internet communications as part of the Transport Layer Security negotiated sessions is rapidly declining while being replaced by the latest version of TLS protocol – TLS 1.3. TLS 1.3 uses a different key exchange protocol called Elliptic-curve Diffie-Huffman.

No specific details about Time AI product and technical implementation have been released during the presentation. I am certainly looking forward to learning more about Time AI and how it can improves encryption standards and data security in the future, especially for enterprise customers.”

From Kevin Strom, CEO of GlobeChat, a startup in San Juan Capistrano that translates a foreign language instantly.

I was fascinated by Robert’s presentation and his claims of a brand new encryption paradigm. Although a great deal of the mathematical equations and finding were well above mycollege level math education, I understood clearly the business applications that would benefit significantly when this encryption protocol is implemented in 2020. With recent escalating concerns over privacy, security and theft of personal data this new enhanced encryption would provide individuals with a much better sense of security. Our company is very interested in implementing Robert’s new encryption on our instant global messaging platform once available.”

What were the red flags that I saw?

– no press release before the event

– Mark Cofano insisting on seeing my original article, (published September 20), before it was published, even though he had not disclosed anything that happened with Crown Sterling in Las Vegas or told me beforehand of any affiliation to Crown Sterling

– see my original article for the rest of the red flags

Were there other journalists at the Newport Beach presentation?

Yes, Sean Gallagher, the IT editor and national security editor at Ars Technica.

What did he write about the event?

Here is an excerpt from his article:

The demonstration only raises more skepticism about Grant’s work and about Crown Sterling’s main thrust—an encryption product called Time AI that Grant claims will use the time signature of AI-generated music to generate “quantum-entangled” keys. Grant’s efforts to show how weak long-cracked versions of RSA are was met with what can only be described as derision by a number of cryptography and security experts.”

What is Crown Strathspey?

A private equity firm in Newport Beach specializing in “lifestyle healthcare.” The firm was founded in partnership with physician investors across medical specialties including plastic surgery, ophthalmology, dermatology, dentistry and orthopedics, according to one of the company’s press releases.

It has 15 subsidiary companies. In addition to Alphaeon, others in the portfolio include Alphaeon Credit, Evolus and Concierge Key Health.

See the complete list of companies here.

In early 2016, Crown Strathspey acquired the portfolio companies of Novus Via, a VC firm in Nevada. This firm focused on end-stage development and commercialization of advanced electro-magnetic and electro-chemical technologies spanning healthcare, clean energy and coherent acoustics. The terms of the transaction were not disclosed. See the press release here.

Where has Strathspey Crown gotten its financing from?

Grant declined to respond to that question. In the Ars Technica article, Sean Gallagher wrote:

Many of the people involved in Crown Sterling are connected either to Strathspey Crown or the Resonance Foundation. But Grant insists that Crown Sterling has nothing to do with either of them.

“We are financed by ourselves as individuals, family offices and other accredited investors and there’s no investment whatsoever from Strathspey,” Grant said. The only relationship [to Strathspey Crown] is that my partner, Vic Malik, and myself are the founders of both organizations.”

How many lawsuits are Robert Grant and Crown Strathspey involved in?

Several.

What do they pertain to?

They mainly involve Alphaeon, the Strathspey Crown subsidiary. They mostly involve accusations of breach of contract. Grant and Strathspey Crown Holdings Group are represented by Theodora Oringher. This law firm did not respond to two requests for comments.

OC Startups Now intends to do a separate, follow-up article on these lawsuits in a few weeks.

How can I find other articles about Crown Sterling?

1 Google “Crown Sterling”

2 Check this blog. He’s curated a list of a skeptics here.

What kind of media attention has Crown Sterling received, other than issuing its own press releases?

ln July, Michael Ashley, the founder of INK Wordsmiths in Mission Viejo, wrote an opinion piece for Forbes, in favor of Crown Sterling, to promote his own book.

He’s writing the book, about how businesses can incorporate AI, with Neil Sahota. See the Forbes opinion piece here.

Neil Sahota is “an IBM Master Inventor, United Nations (UN) Artificial Intelligence (AI) subject matter expert, and Professor at UC Irvine,” according to his own website.

As of press time, OC Startups Now, Sahota had not responded to a request for comment.

Ashley also wrote an article mentioning Crown Sterling in Entrepreneur Magazine “4 Ways Businesses and Consumers Can Take Back Their Data in 2019.”

As of press time, OC Startups Now had not heard received a response from Ashley.

What kind of PR is Grant publicizing on LinkedIn regarding Crown Sterling?

If you look at Crown Sterling’s LinkedIn page here, you will see an interview by 1-800-PublicRelations (1800 PR) interviewing Grant a few months ago at Humanity 2.0 at the Vatican in Rome.

Humanity 2.0 is “a vehicle for facilitating collaborative ventures between the traditionally siloed public, private and faith-based sectors. Its mission is to identify impediments to human progress and then work cross-sector to remove them,” according to its LinkedIn page.

What does all of this regarding Crown Sterling and Strathspey Crown mean for OC’s entire startup/innovation ecosystem?

Time will tell. Beware of anyone making audacious claims about AI, especially if they haven’t released a product yet. Beware of anyone touting “AI for good.”

For the complete Ars Technia article, which included an interview with Grant, see here.

About The Author

Deirdre Newman is a long-time journalist, who's covered OC startups for a few years.

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