UPDATE 1-Experts protesting NSA deal boycott largest U.S. security gathering

Fri Jan 17, 2014 12:51pm EST

By Joseph Menn
    SAN FRANCISCO, Jan 17 (Reuters) - Several prominent computer
security experts have canceled appearances at the largest annual
U.S conference on security technology and are instead switching
to a rival gathering, as discord grows over U.S. intelligence
practices.
    Nine security experts have ditched coveted speaking slots at
the annual RSA Conference, to be held next month in San
Francisco, in protest over the conference owner's dealings with
the National Security Agency.
    Instead, they will speak at the new and smaller 'TrustyCon'
gathering to be held in the same city during the RSA event,
billed as the first 'Trustworthy Technology Conference.' Backers
include Def Con, which holds a major hacking conference each
year in Las Vegas and the nonprofit Electronic Frontier
Foundation.
    Reuters reported last month that RSA Security, now a
division of data storage maker EMC Corp, incorporated a
flawed cryptography formula in a widely-used software tool under
a $10-mil federal contract. The NSA-developed formula is now
believed to have been breakable by the agency, though people
familiar with the RSA arrangement told Reuters that executives
had not realized that at the time. 
    "I don't think it's wrong for companies to work with the
government. What's important is being trustworthy and honest
with customers," said Alex Stamos. Stamos is involved in the
setting up of TrustyCon. "The most charitable reading is that
RSA failed to see the danger and didn't warn the customers."
    RSA continued to use the NSA formula for years despite
cryptography experts calling it suspicious, recommending its
removal only when reports based on NSA documents leaked by
former U.S. spy agency contractor, Edward Snowden prompted a
federal standards body to drop its endorsement of the
technology.
    RSA said in December that it never knowingly compromised
products and that a decade ago the NSA had been seen as a
helpful partner in developing security tools.
    But Def Con founder, Jeff Moss said RSA "seemed to lack a
genuine interest in engaging with its customers" about what it
had done and why, as well as what it had learned.
    The RSA's executive chairman, Art Coviello, is scheduled to
give one of the keynote speeches at the RSA event.
    "It is not unusual for small events to happen alongside that
aim to leverage the momentum and publicity of the RSA
Conference, which is a good sign of a thriving industry event,"
the conference's organizers said in a statement on Friday,
referring to the rival gathering.
    "We've always embraced these activities and the open,
healthy dialogue that springs from them."

    DISAPPOINTMENT
    Owned by RSA parent EMC, the RSA Conference depends on
outside advisors to select topics. The program committee chair
this year is Hugh Thompson, chief security strategist at Blue
Coat Systems Inc.
    In an interview, Thompson said that while he was
disappointed that some speakers had canceled, there would still
be a great deal of discussion about Snowden's revelations and
the roles played by RSA and its peers.
    "There are a lot of questions that have been raised about
the security infrastructure and how it works, and I do think
it's going to lead to a very healthy debate," Thompson said.
"This is a topic that is definitely going to be discussed."
    More than 500 speakers will speak at the RSA Conference,
which organizers expect to attract more than last year's record
24,000 attendees.
    Among those withdrawing from the RSA Conference include
Mikko Hypponen, chief research officer at Finland-based security
company F-Secure, two researchers from Google Inc
, and Jeffrey Carr, a consultant who runs his own
conferences on cyber intelligence-gathering and defense.
    Some said the RSA deal struck such a nerve because it is the
first security company to be identified as having a contractual
relationship with the NSA that ultimately weakened security.
Others have slammed the conference withdrawals, citing many
companies and different countries are guilty of similar,
unreported behavior.
    Hypponen, Moss, and RSA critics from the Electronic Frontier
Foundation and American Civil Liberties Union will be among the
TrustyCon presenters, Stamos said. Hypponen's speech will cover
malicious software created by governments.
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