Articles / Making Secure Sounds

on 06 May 2018

I’ve been procrastinating writing this article. Sometimes, I do this because I can’t think of a clever open. Other times, it’s because I honestly don’t understand the technology. And often, it’s just because I find the topic dull. As an independent analyst, I have the great luxury to focus on things that I believe are both important and interesting, so I can just drop the boring stuff. But none of these are why I’ve been procrastinating this article. Let me explain . . .

I jumped onto a call two weeks ago with the principals of a company (and app) called Sonic Messenger. From their name, I suspected in advance that their offering would have something to do with sound – probably an encryption thingy, and as someone with an undergraduate physics degree, I admit to having a soft spot for these sorts of things. So, it was my pleasure to connect with the company – which I had not known previously.

But after an hour of technical discussion with the team, along with some time spent perusing their website (http://sonicmsgr.com/), I could see the inner workings of something truly different, albeit surrounded by a mixture of several emerging technologies that seemed to be somewhat orthogonal in their placement. I’ll do my best to explain the core solutions that I believe have real business potential, and I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about the rest.

Now, to start – Sonic Messenger has created sound-encoding and decoding algorithms that they’ve combined with SHA-512 encryption into a solution called SonicTone. The way it works is that sounds are encoded and encrypted into an audio file, which can then be transmitted over any speaker system – presumably inaudible to humans. If you are near the sound and have the Sonic Messenger software on your mobile, then you can detect and decode the signal.

The Sonic Messenger team was keen to explain how all this could be easily integrated into near field communications, secure e-commerce, proximity marketing with coupons, and so on. But during the discussion, I stopped listening momentarily as my mind wandered back to the home where I grew up on the Jersey Shore. I remember that when there was a fire warning, these loud outdoor emergency sirens from Bradley Beach to Belmar would start blaring away.

I interrupted the Sonic Messenger team and asked if their sonic encryption technology could be used to replace this aging broadcast technology – and they explained that emergency communication was a major use-case they’ve been examining. Now I don’t know about you, but I think this is a cool concept, and the use of encrypted sound strikes me as a decent emergency notification alternative – or complementary solution – to existing community sirens.

I mentioned earlier that this company was also offering a mixture of different technologies – so I should briefly describe them: First, they appear to be one of the first security solution teams I’ve encountered that is building on the IOTA Tangle (https://www.iota.org/), which is a relatively obscure, but extremely interesting, alternative to blockchain. (I only knew about it because I remember reading a term paper on blockless ledgers from a Stevens student.)

Anyway, the Sonic Messenger team is presumably using the IOTA Tangle as underlying basis for establishing self-regulating, distributed consensus on transferred secure information. This is a wonderful computer science concept, but it wasn’t immediately clear to me how such a decentralized peer-to-peer network was really needed for the types of practical SonicTone deployments I could imagine. (No harm done – I just didn’t see why it might be necessary.)

An additional innovation included in the Sonic Messenger solution set is a software development platform called SonicCell that supports drag-and-drop of code to simplify adding new functionality to an app. This enables a comprehensive Sonic Messenger app ecosystem, including the SonicWallet crypto-currency wallet and a SonicID app for personal identification and authorization. (I told you it was a mixture of technologies.)

Look, while I haven’t totally gotten my arms around this company, my advice is to keep an eye on them. Integrating sound with encryption to create a new means for information exchange is a good concept. And all the various technologies they appear to be either integrating or dabbling with are solid from a computer science perspective. So, there is at worst no harm by introducing novel ledger management, code drag-and-drop, and the like.

Have a look at what they are doing and let me know what you think.