Going from ‘Saying Nothing’ to ‘Saying Something’ at RSA

If you’ll pardon a bit of editorialism for a moment, I’d like to comment on some of the talks given at the RSA show in San Francisco this week.

There are dozens of talks and panels at the RSA show, many expertly covered by media outlets such as SC Magazine and Wired.com. But I’d like to relate a brief impression from a colleague and I from the first ‘big stage’ appearance of new White House Cyber Security Coordinator, Howard Schmidt, who attended and spoke on several separate occasions.

Our first impression of Howard Schmidt was underwhelming, both at the 11:00 A.M. keynote and the 5:00 P.M. presentations on Tuesday, 2 March. My colleague (I’ll anonymize him for now) simply stated it seemed ‘content free’. For the 11:00 A.M. keynote, which seemed completely unrehearsed and all cue cards, I could visibly see the audience collectively dozing off and then noticeably jolting awake at the point where he announced the declassification of parts of the CNCI.

However, I found his statements later in the RSA show very interesting — particularly the denunciation of the US being in a ‘Cyber War’.

Another very telling one-sentence statement (quoting Schidt from Wired.com):

“As for getting into the power grid, I can’t see that that’s realistic,” Schmidt said.


We thought he really went from ‘saying nothing’ to ‘saying something’ very rapidly over the course of a week. Schmidt repudiated a lot of metaphors, comments, and claims about the need to completely overhaul the information infrastructure in this country. But he did so without understating the real threats that are out there. Which, he tellingly alluded, had more to do with financial fraud and isolated actors than with political state-motivated attacks. I’m not sure I agree with him, given the slow deterioration of the Chinese Government’s plausible deniability on the source of cyber attacks on US companies in the last few months. But at least we’re getting some sense of the administration’s priorities now in detail.

This ‘saying something’ is a great and welcome change to the posturing and non-commitment I believe we’ve had from the Executive Branch after its first 12 months in office. His precise words and alignment probably have more affect on the political angles than technical angles. No matter what the source of the threat, collaboration and technology are still needed. The need for Schmidt’s new position does not change.

One response to “Going from ‘Saying Nothing’ to ‘Saying Something’ at RSA

  1. Pingback: The Importance of ‘Trusted Suppliers’ « CPU Tech Secure Computing Blog

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