Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Its HUGE - RSA 2015

The state of the IT industry, and the security industry in particular, can be judged by just how big the RSA Conference is. This week RSA 2015 is being held in San Francisco and it is certainly the largest I have ever seen it to be. As usual we are in the Moscone Centre in downtown San Fran. But the conference is taking over the entire centre. The tracks are being held in Moscone West, whilst the main keynotes and the expo is held in Moscone South and North. It is certainly the biggest security Expo I have ever seen, and the place is packed with delegates.

As usual the conference started with some "star" giving a joke song about security. This year it was apparently someone of a programme called "Glee" singing a parody of Bowie's "Changes". We then had the usual keynotes. For those not used to the RSA Conference these can range from terrible self publicity of a company, through to really interesting and thought provoking philosophical discussions on all things security. The first keynotes this year were of the latter type.

Amit Yoran of RSA kicked off with a discussion of how our mindset of walls and perimeters is still dominant in the industry, despite this being known to be wrong for many years. His thesis was that we have the technology to prevent all the high profile attacks of the last year, but we lack the mindset. I thought this was a very thought provoking talk, and well worth catching up on the video if you were not there.

We then had Scott Charney of Microsoft, who concentrated on the idea of us not only wanting security, privacy and reliability, we also require control and transparency. This is particularly true of cloud services; since we are not expecting to give over control of our (individual and company) data to cloud providers. We want the controls on this data, and how those controls are exercised, to be done in a transparent manner.

Taking up the idea that we simply have the wrong old fashioned mindset, the next talk by Christopher Young of Intel looked at how sporting teams have changed the way they work by examining scientific evidence. He concentrated on some team doing baseball (which I am led to believe is an inferior form of cricket, close to the "girlie game" of rounders). Apparently there is some film out about a baseball team which improved by using statistics. The key point being that the team improved by changing the standard way of working, and this was achieved by processing the large amount of data which was available.

This was followed by the usual highlight of the RSA Conference; namely the Cryptographers Panel. This year Paul Kocher chaired, with the panel made up of Whit Diffie, Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir and Ed Giorgio (ex NSA). Whit was in particularly good form with a number of interesting view points and remarks which drew chuckles from the audience. The panel considered a number of issues; from Snowden to Bitcoin to IoT.

The award for Mathematical Excellence this year was shared between Ivan Damgard and Hugo Krawcyzk.  Ron gave a nice little talk linking the work of these two excellent cryptographers by their work on hash functions.

So what did I learn from the first day of RSA? Well mainly I am out of touch with modern culture. All the references to movies and TV programmes went over my head.

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