Crown Sterling asserts its legal right to be an idiot

Remember Crown Sterling — the cryptography company with a strange product based on predicting prime numbers? Now it’s suing Black Hat USA, the conference where it announced the product, for being mean to it.

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.

Now Crown Sterling has filed a complaint. As legal documents go, it’s pretty dramatic. Here’s an excerpt:

Black Hat USA’s failure was occasioned by a premeditated, orchestrated attack on Plaintiff Crown Sterling at Black Hat USA 2019, staged by certain industry detractors and competitors. Plaintiff Crown Sterling was not simply a participant at the conference. Crown Sterling was a sponsor. In purchasing the highest (“gold”) sponsorship package, Crown Sterling went all in to support the Black Hat conference, trusting that Black Hat USA reasonably would stand by its high standards. But it did not. . . .

The Black Hat USA 2019 conference would be the first time that Crown Sterling participated in a Black Hat conference. About two dozen of Crown Sterling’s employees spent months preparing to do so. Crown Sterling and its employees at every level, from the Chief Executive Officer down to administrative assistants, were eager to participate in what by all accounts promised to be a spirited engagement in and with the information security industry at Black Hat USA 2019. . . .

Indeed, Crown Sterling welcomed the opportunity to participate in the premier forum for healthy debate about these matters. That respectful dialogue, Black Hat’s organizers assured Crown Sterling, was the very hallmark of the Black Hat conference. . .

Crown Sterling on the afternoon of August 9 presented a sponsored session, presented by Crown Sterling’s founder Robert Grant entitled “The 2019 Discovery of Quasi Prime Numbers: What Does This Mean for Encryption?” The room was filled to capacity with conference attendees.

Excitement over Crown Sterling’s presence at the Black Hat conference had been building. . . . Apparently, Crown Sterling’s competitors and detractors had taken note of the substantial and growing interest and high level of engagement at Crown Sterling’s exhibitor booth.

At the conclusion of Crown Sterling’s presentation, one of the detractors stood up and angrily addressed the room, seizing the floor, so to speak. He shouted accusations that Crown Sterling were fraudsters. He threatened that Black Hat itself would “take them down.” This statement seemed absurd, but later proved uncannily revealing.

Crown Sterling also did not anticipate that this heckler would address its employees who were present, yelling at them that they should be ashamed for participating in a fraud and urging them to quit. This attack took Crown Sterling and its employees aback and by complete surprise. What about Black Hat’s vaunted Code of Conduct? How could such slanderous conduct be allowed? Was it not demeaning to every single person in attendance, each of who could be presumed to possess both intellect and reason sufficient to form their own judgments?

Black Hat USA did, indeed, violate its own code of conduct

Does Crown Sterling have a point? I concede that it does. Here is an excerpt from Black Hat USA’s code of conduct:

Expected behavior includes, but is not limited to:

* Be considerate, respectful, and collaborative.

* Refrain from demeaning, discriminatory or harassing behavior, materials and speech. . . .

Unacceptable behavior & materials include, but are not limited to:

* Intimidating, harassing, abusive, discriminatory, derogatory, or demeaning materials or conduct by any attendees of the event and related event activities. . . .

Unacceptable behavior will not be tolerated whether by other attendees, media, speakers, volunteers, organizers, venue staff, sponsors, or exhibitors.

Anyone asked to stop unacceptable behavior is expected to comply immediately.

If a participant engages in unacceptable behavior, the conference organizers may take any action they deem appropriate, including expulsion from the conference without warning or refund and contacting the authorities as necessary.

After the controversy erupted, Black Hat USA appeared to side with the critics of Crown Sterling, and said it would take Crown Sterling’s materials off of its site (Crown Sterling says they were never posted in the first place.)

In my opinion, Black Hat USA should never have accepted a sponsorship from Crown Sterling, given the absurd nature of its claimed product. Having accepted the sponsorship, though, Black Hat USA had a responsibility to enforce its code of conduct and not abdicate its responsibility towards a sponsor. It should return Crown Sterling’s sponsorship fee.

Even so, Crown Sterling is acting like a petulant child — where’s its defense of its product?

If you present something that completely upends the world of cryptography, you should be prepared to defend your position — with facts.

Crown Sterling’s method is based on mathematics. Mathematical proof is not a squishy concept. And so far as I know, no mathematician or mathematical cryptography expert has endorsed anything Crown Sterling has written as valid. The reverse is true; all the experts say it’s bullshit.

Crown Sterling’s dramatic recitation in the lawsuit of how the cryptography community criticized it, turned on it, and hurt its feelings proves nothing about the validity of the Crown Sterling product. It sounds more like a child whining about getting taunted at the cafeteria lunch table.

This overreaction will certainly get more people to notice Crown Sterling, but not to believe in it. Not all publicity is good publicity — at least when your credibility is in question.

Crown Sterling was a laughingstock when it developed and published a dodgy, unvetted paper about its method. It was a laughingstock when it presented at this conference. It was a laughingstock when critics derided it. And with this lawsuit, it has insured that we’ll all keep laughing at it.

If you’re going to express a vastly unpopular opinion, you’d better have the facts to back it up, and you should present it in as sober and hype-free a fashion as possible. Because if you react emotionally, as Crown Sterling did, you will convince everyone that you are, indeed, the idiot they though you were.

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  1. For what it’s worth, I’m the person who yelled at Crown Sterling during their sponsored talk. I waited patiently for them to deliver their entire talk and then voiced my concerns, loudly, only at the end. I was removed from the room within one minute. Their code of conduct was enforced.

    Here is a video that shows it more clearly:

    And here is my confirmation at the time that it occurred:

    Blackhat did not violate their code of conduct. It appears to have worked as expected. I have admitted that it was the right move to eject me from the room, since the security personnel obviously can’t judge the quality of the talk.