RSA Conference 2014: dealing with the NSA elephant in the room

Profile picture for user gonzodaddy By Den Howlett February 24, 2014
Summary:
The RSAs deal with the NSA created a controversy that isn't going away. Executive chairman Arthur Coviello dealt squarely with this issue on the opening keynote.

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At today's RSA Conference, Arthur Coviello, executive chairman RSA dealt with the elephant in the room - RSA's controversial deal with the US government/NSA for $10 million. Paraphrased.

Has the RSA done business with the NSA? Yes, but that's been going on for over a decade. We work with the defence division. We receive valuable information from Whenever NSA blurs the lines...that's a problem. In areas for review if we can't be sure then we should not be working with the NSA at all. It should be solely a foreign intelligence organization. Sadly much of the good work is being lost by the feeding frenzy around this topic. It's dangerous.

In short , all intelligence agencies around the world need to do more to defend us, and less to offend us.

We've had centuries to figure out the rules of engagement in the physical world. we've had a scant decade to figure it out for the digital world. Clearly we are at a crossroads.

Endeavoring to address current concerns, Coviello said that the industry, together with governments worldwide need to:

  1. Renounce the use of the internet for waging war
  2. Cooperate and investigate global criminal activity
  3. Ensure economic activity can continue unfettered
  4. Respect and ensure the privacy of all individuals

Where have we heard these before?  Everywhere. Can it work? "Many will think I am naive," said Coviello, yet he believes there are precedents from perspectives from the Cold War era.

I believe (president Kennedy) was right when he argued that our problems are man made and therefore they can be solved by man. It will take inspired leadership. Nations act out of self interest, but these principles are in the interests of all nations and humanity.

We must shine a light on these issues and inspire our political leaders to do more.

Invoking the image of Kennedy to an audience of this kind will likely be met with skepticism and admiration in equal measure. More broadly, I saw this keynote as one driven by a US centric agenda.

Make no mistake, security is at once a business and political imperative and while it may seem distasteful, to ignore the politics is a fool's errand. The question remains however, how can organizations like the RSA retain and maintain relevance when all the signs are that recent events have left it at war with its community. Coviello's soothing yet uplifting words will will not be enough. Action always speaks louder.