Government Voice to Echo Loudly at RSA Conference

By Matthew Hines  |  Posted 2010-02-27 Print this article Print

The 2010 iteration of the RSA Security Conference which opens Monday in San Francisco will feature an impressive array of influential government heavyweights among its featured keynote speakers.

After the Obama Administration declined to deliver a specific strategy around cyber-security at RSA in 2009, it appears that a stronger message will be sent by government officials this year.

As issues of electronic infiltration, exploitation and data theft continue to gain greater attention everywhere from the White House to the electrical grid, driven by some notable incidents and attacks reported over the last year, this year's version of the IT security industry confab bears a decidedly government flavor -- in addition to its annual showcase of top IT security industry executives.

Foremost among this contingent will be White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard Schmidt -- who while familiar to many in the government and private security sectors has only been in office for two months and recently held his first press conference -- along with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

Like most of those before him to sit in the so-called role of cyber-czar, Schmidt has identified improved coordination of federal cyber-security efforts as a leading priority. However, many government experts believe that the creation of a cabinet-level position for electronic affairs is a necessity for the U.S. government to experience any marked improvement in its ability to address cyber-security in a more effective manner, a recommendation that the Obama Administration ultimately chose not to endorse.

Napolitano is charged with overseeing just one, albeit sprawling, aspect of the national cyber-security landscape, among her many other areas of focus. The extent to the which the outside world notes Schmidt and Napolitano's RSA presentations should be interesting, as clearly stories such as the Wall Street Journal's reporting of issues including hacked military drone video in the theater of war and infiltration of the U.S. electrical grid have resonated with a larger audience.

Next in line is FBI Director Robert Mueller, who obviously wields another powerful hand in the continued maturation of federal law enforcement as related to cyber crime across many areas of national interest. Mueller cites the need for greater dedication of assets to the pursuit of "criminals, terrorists, and nation-state actors" alike in his keynote abstract.

With continued inference of Chinese involvement in prominent cyber-attack reports and the purported discovery of the aeronautics schematics for the President's Marine One helicopter discovered on file sharing services in Iran, Mueller's recognition of the adoption of electronic capabilities by nearly every form of U.S. adversary underscores the rise of cyber-security as a matter of federal concern.

A panel looking at the ability for the government to address "Sophisticated Threats in Cyberspace without Creating Big Brother" will feature another trio of well-known Washington influencers in former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, former White House cyber-czar Richard Clarke and Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).

Retired NSA official Brian Snow will participate in the annual RSA Cryptographers Panel (and it's always worth noting that cryptography is what this show was founded on). He's got experience working on secure systems including nuclear command and control, and tactical battlefield radios on his bio.

A talk on battlefield robotics prepared by Dr. Peter Warren Singer from the Brookings Institution is clearly another government-relevant presentation, given the WSJ drone video story. A number of U.S. state CISOs and other officials are also slated to appear at the show.

Of course, you have to remember that even among the many private industry executives presenting at IT security conferences like RSA you have a heavy government influence, such as in Microsoft Trustworthy Computing VP Scott Charney, who used to work as chief of the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section at the Department of Justice.

People like Apple's Steve Wozniak and Craiglist's Craig Newmark are also going to present keynotes, and they are cearly very relevant within the context of improving IT security. But RSA Conference 2010 is as much about elevating government involvement as it seems the show has ever been.

Follow eWeek Security Watch on Twitter at: eWeekSecWatch.

Matt Hines has been following the IT industry for over a decade as a reporter and blogger, and has been specifically focused on the security space since 2003, including a previous stint writing for eWeek and contributing to the Security Watch blog. Hines is currently employed as marketing communications manager at Core Security Technologies, a Boston-based maker of security testing software. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of Core Security, and neither the company, nor its products and services will be actively discussed in the blog. Please send news, research or tips to |

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