‘Impenetrable’ encryption arrives to lock down Internet of Things

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Credit for photo: by Dan Chmielewski
Credit for photo: by Dan Chmielewski

LAS VEGAS – Robert Coleridge, CTO of startup Secure Channels, has rented time in a shark cage to get up close and personal with a great white shark. For kicks.

That’s a mild thrill compared to wrestling with math concepts to invent what Coleridge contends is a revolutionary, impenetrable new method to encrypt data.

Coleridge recently secured a U.S. patent for his invention. Now, Secure Channels is busy pursuing commercial uses for this new level of encryption, addressing gaping security holes to fulfill the promise of the Internet of Things.

To get the security community’s attention here at Black Hat, Secure Channels posed an enticing challenge to the planet’s top good guy hackers: The first person to crack into a file protected by Secure Channels’ novel encryption process, dubbed PKMS2, would win a new BMW sedan.

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Secure Channels CEO Richard Blech professed no worries. His confidence proved warranted, as the 48-hour deadline expired Thursday night. None of the more than 150 hackers who participated in the hacking contest could crack in.

Coleridge is a colorful character. He’s a native of Canada and U.S. citizen, who lives with his wife in a home secluded in the forests outside of Bellingham, Washington, near the Canadian border.

He spent 20 years designing infrastructure systems at Microsoft and, he says, he always focused on the security aspects of operating systems and network architectures he has worked on.

He’ll dive deeply into technical jargon, then spin what he’s describing into vivid analogies. He told ThirdCertainty that his new approach to encryption is like stacking up multiple layers of twisted sheets of static. Or, he told me, it’s akin to using an ocean to obfuscate the molecules in a  glass of water.

He calmly asserts that it would take a supercomputer running flat out—making 19 quadrillion calculations per second—approximately 29 times the age of the universe to break PKMS2.

“That’s how big the number is,” Coleridge says. “The age of universe being 14 billion years, it would take 29 times the number of seconds in 14 billion years to brute force every possible combination.”

Secure Channels has a bold plan to introduce what Coleridge describes as “impenetrable encryption” in a partnership with Internet services company Proximity. The partners are moving to deploy highly secure systems that will help advance the delivery of new forms of consumer services in airports and malls.

One example Secure Channels CEO Richard Blech told me about is a deal to equip high-end malls with ultra-secure customer tracking systems that will support advertising and mobile transactions for consumers strolling to specific stores.

Current encryption technology isn’t trivial to crack. But there’s room in the market for a higher level of encryption, Blech says, underscored by the Target breach and Edward Snowden’s intelligence leaks.

“The last thing they (high-end retailers) need is a breach like Target,” he says.

Another deal Secure Channels has in the works is a partnership to install video display kiosks in spaces that once held pay phones in airports.

If Secure Channels achieves commercial success, it could be a linchpin to advancing the so-called Internet of Things in a much safer way.