SAN FRANCISCO, CALIF. – RSA Conference 2016 -- With one of the biggest crowds ever to hit Moscone for RSA Conference USA, the gathering last week of 40,000 security professionals and vendors was like a convergence of water cooler chatterboxes from across the entire infosec world. Whether at scheduled talks, in bustling hallways or cocktail hours at the bars nearby, a number of definite themes wound their way through discussions all week. Here's what kept the conversations flowing.
The topic of government-urged encryption backdoors was already promising to be a big topic at the show, but the FBI-Apple bombshell ensured that this was THE topic of RSAC 2016. According to Bromium, a survey taken of attendees showed that 86% of respondents sided with Apple in this debate, so much of the chatter was 100 different ways of explaining the inadvisability of the FBI's mandate.
One of the most colorful quotes came from Michael Chertoff, former head of U.S. Department of Homeland Security: "Once you’ve created code that’s potentially compromising, it’s like a bacteriological weapon. You’re always afraid of it getting out of the lab.”
In spite of the dark cast the backdoor issue set over the Federal government's relations with the cybersecurity industry, there was plenty of evidence of positive public-private cooperation. Exhibit A: the "Hack the Pentagon" bug bounty program announced by the DoD in conjunction with Defense Secretary Ash Carter's appearance at the show. While bug bounty programs are hardly a new thing, the announcement of the program shows how completely these programs have become mainstream best practices.
"There are lots of companies who do this,” Carter said in a town hall session with Ted Schlein, general partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. “It’s a way of kind of crowdsourcing the expertise and having access to good people and not bad people. You’d much rather find vulnerabilities in your networks that way than in the other way, with a compromise or shutdown.”
There was no lack of vendors hyping new threat intelligence capabilities at this show, but as with many hot security product categories threat intel is suffering a bit as the victim of its own success. The marketing machine is in full gear now pimping out threat intel capabilities for any feature even remotely looking like it; one vendor lamented to me off the record, "most threat intel these days is not even close to being real intelligence."
In short, threat intel demonstrated at the show that it was reaching the peak of the classic hype cycle pattern. RSAC attendees had some great evidence of that hanging around their necks. Just a month after the very public dismantling of Norse Corp., the show's badge holder necklaces still bore the self-proclaimed threat intelligence vendor's logos. But as Robert Lee, CEO of Dragos Security, capably explained over a month ago in the Norse fallout, this kind of failure (and additional disillusionment from customers led astray by the marketing hype) is not necessarily a knock on the credibility of threat intel as a whole. It is just a matter of people playing fast and loose with the product category itself.
"Simply put, they were interpreting data as intelligence," Lee said. "There is a huge difference between data, information, and intelligence. So while they may have billed themselves as significant players in the threat intelligence community they were never really accepted by the community, or participating in it, by most leading analysts and companies. Therefore, they aren’t a bellwether of the threat intelligence industry."