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4/27/2009
02:06 PM
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RSA's Five Big Takeaways

Swag was scarce, attendee counts were down, and a few vendors opted not to exhibit this year, but last week's annual RSA Conference in San Francisco was still the obligatory get-together for security experts and vendors, sprinkled with loads of product and partner announcements and high-profile keynote speakers. The trouble with a show as large as the RSA Conference, of course, is that you can't see it all. So here's a synopsis of just some of the more memorable moments:

Swag was scarce, attendee counts were down, and a few vendors opted not to exhibit this year, but last week's annual RSA Conference in San Francisco was still the obligatory get-together for security experts and vendors, sprinkled with loads of product and partner announcements and high-profile keynote speakers.

The trouble with a show as large as the RSA Conference, of course, is that you can't see it all. So here's a synopsis of just some of the more memorable moments:Spooks Make Real News: Privacy paranoia has been rampant during the past few weeks after several high-ranking security officials have called for the National Security Agency (NSA) to be a major player in U.S. cybersecurity operations. But the NSA's director shot down that buzz, declaring in his keynote that his agency does not want to take over U.S. cybersecurity. Said Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander: "We don't want to run cybersecurity for the U.S. government. That's a big job...We need to have a partnership with others. DHS has a big role in it." NSA will provide "technical support," he said, as part of a team effort that includes the DHS and security industry.

No-News News: Melissa Hathaway's much-anticipated (and overhyped) keynote here was mostly a disappointment. No details on her 60-day review for the Obama administration -- just a few generalizations and several references to movies and literature. It's not that anyone expected her to give away her report before President Obama gets to read it, but we just wanted a few nuggets, that's all. So if I really dig for some details in her speech, here's what I get: Government can't work in isolation on this; we'll work with other countries to secure cyberspace; the feds can't delegate all of this. (See what I mean?) Still, I think her appearance at RSA was symbolic, signaling that the administration is planning to work with the security community. I only wish they had billed it that way.

Encryption, For Free: There was a lot of sharing going on at RSA due to both economic and market pressures. One of the more significant vendor announcements came from RSA, itself, which is now offering developers its BSAFE encryption tools -- which can cost a customer tens of thousands of dollars to license -- for free. The crypto components in BSAFE's library are widely deployed, and security analysts say with RSA now offering the technology for free, it could help finally make encryption a built-in element for many apps.

Botnet Brawl, Part 2: Unfortunately, it's becoming a tradition for botnet researchers to come to blows over new botnet discoveries at RSA. Last year, it was Kraken/Bobax. This year, Finjan's announcement that it had discovered a mega-botnet of some 1.9-plus million bots caused a stir among competing bot researchers, some of which say Finjan's numbers are misleading. But Finjan's CTO today responded, saying that the number of bots the company reported is accurate and based on uniquely infected machines. (I asked this last year, but I'll ask again: Would bot researchers please make this botnet identification process more uniform so that everyone is on the same page when you talk about botnets? Or at least get better at sharing your findings?)

The "Cloud" Cleans Up: I dare you to try counting the number of announcements and sessions at RSA with the word "cloud" in them. Security service-related announcements were big this year, with Cisco and IBM ISS, for instance, both releasing security services-based offerings. Existing service providers, like Savvis, branched out with new cloud-based services, and some unique service partnerships emerged, like that of file search engine vendor Splunk and security services provider GlassHouse Technologies, which unveiled a joint service designed to help manage security events across the enterprise with a search-engine approach.

And speaking of clouds -- the real ones, that is -- air travel to RSA last week was a mess for some attendees. There were reports of canceled flights, delayed flights, overbooked flights, grumpy flight attendants, and even one flight delay due to an airline replacing a seat cover in first class. Who needs RSA swag as long as you have a fresh seat cover?

-- Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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