Unexpectedly Intriguing!
September 6, 2019

It's the technology that protects your credit card information from being discovered whenever you buy anything online. Whenever you send or receive an encrypted e-mail, it's the technology that keeps it from being intercepted and read by hackers with access to the internet nodes the electronic message might pass through between sender and receiver. But it may not be as secure as you might hope it would be.

Public key cryptography using asymmetric encryption is the basis of much of today's computer-based encryption. Most of today's public key cryptography is based on a coding descendent of the RSA algorithm, which was developed by MIT's Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir and Leonard Adleman back in 1977, which uses prime numbers and the difficulty in factoring very large composite numbers back into their component primes to encrypt and decrypt secure messages. The following 14-minute video from F5 DevCentral's John Wagnon explains the basics of how the algorithm works and talks through an example of it in work:

In March 2019, Robert Grant and Talal Ghannam released a preprint paper in which they claim that because the distribution of prime numbers is not entirely random, with identifable patterns that appear within them, it may be possible to develop a decryption algorithm that can efficiently crack an RSA-encoded message, without having to go through the brute force of running a multitude of trial divisions and consuming mammoth amounts of processing time in doing so to break the encryption.

Or not. In July 2019, mathematician Mark Carney identified several errors with the math in Grant and Ghannam's paper and demonstrated more computationally efficient methods of identifying prime numbers. Moreover, Carney notes that the efficiencies that might be gained by Grant and Ghannam's approach doesn't appear to scale upward with ever increasing prime numbers, which means that the Grant-Ghannam proposed RSA-breaking method has limited potential.

Ars Technica tells much of this story and the reactions that Grant's presentation at a recent "Black Hat" cryptography convention generated.

Perhaps a more interesting development to come out of the controversy is Grant's proposal for an RSA algorithm replacement, one that wouldn't use prime factors at all, which his company, Crown Sterling, is developing. Unfortunately, there isn't much information available about that new algorithm, called Time AI, at this time:

Crown Sterling claims that its Time AI cryptographic system 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.

Time AI, announced by Grant in a controversial sponsored presentation at Black Hat USA earlier this month, is not yet a product. In fact, Crown Sterling has not published any technical details of how Time AI works. (Grant said that the company is working on a "white paper," and it should be out by the end of the year.)

Here's how Grant and Crown Sterling's COO Joseph Hopkins described it to Ars Technica, where the algorithm would start with a snippet of an irrational number, then have an artificial intelligence system make it sing....

"It's a very unique algorithm," Grant said. "It's based on mathematical constant numbers—like pi for example—that have infinite tails that can be derived through equations, that are then connected to an AI. Basically, the AI is writing its own music. And each of the musical notes has a time signature associated with it. And then we oscillate them at a scale of time that's at 10 to the negative ninth power, which is in the nano scale of time. So it's a very rapid moving target of a dynamic encryption key."

"So what Robert just described to you," said Hopkins, "is sort of like our quantum key generator and it also has to do with its own particular crypto system. And in terms of post-quantum, we also believe that Time AI would also be quantum resistant."

That may not as be as crazy as it might at first sound. Today, Cloudflare utilizes a wall of lava lamps at its headquarters to help generate random numbers for maintaining Internet security on its servers. Check out the following video:

But would Crown Sterling's AI system be better than an established lava lamp-based computer security system? And regardless of whether it was or wasn't, how could you tell?

Previously on Political Calculations

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