Charles Engelke's Blog

February 25, 2004

Day One at the RSA Conference

Filed under: RSA 2004 — Charles Engelke @ 8:18 pm

I didn’t take live notes the first day, because it’s not well set
here for using a PC. These notes were taken Tuesday, during
breakout sessions in the Sony Metreon movie theaters, which have
much roomier and more comfortable seats that the general sessions
had.

The conference opened with a very elaborate Chinese dragon dance.
It was very pretty, but I don’t like these kinds of things at
technical conferences. I’ve only seen them in the past at
conferences that were more about junketing than learning. This isn’t
a good sign.

Following the dance there was a skit about a woman in fourteenth
century China gathering eggs for market, but losing count while
doing so. When some rich horseman knocks the eggs to the ground
as she travels to market, he offers to pay for the eggs and asks
how many there were. Her answer is that she doesn’t know. But,
when she counted them by fives, there were three left over. When
she counted by threes, there were two left over. When counting by
sevens, there were two left over.

The main speaker for the conference, an RSA executive whose name
I didn’t catch, then came out and talked about the “remainder
theorem”, which was always called the “Chinese Remainder Theorem”
when I studied number theory in the seventies and early eighties.
Maybe that name is now politically incorrect. In any case, he
never explained what the theorem says, nor why anyone should care.
The skit is apparently just for pretty theater, not any particular
point. (By the way, the woman had at least 23 eggs.)

We then had a talk about politics and current events from Cokie
Roberts. Good talk. Totally unrelated to the point of the
conference. Finally, Bill Gates told us about how Windows XP
Service Pack 2 will be a big step in making Windows more secure,
and Longhorn will be even better. There’s nothing earth-shaking
here, but these simple changes will actually help a lot. Still,
Bill seems listless talking about them.

We then have a presentation of RSA Conference Awards, including a
special one that just happens to go to RSA’s first CEO, Jim Bidzos.
We then have a keynote from RSA’s current CEO; a good talk, and a
good general keynote for this kind of meeting. The morning general
sessions close with a panel discussion from some really big-name
cryptographers: Bruce Schneier, Adelman and Shamir (the A and S of
RSA), someone I hadn’t heard from, and Whit Diffie (the guy who
first conceived of public key cryptography, which the RSA algorithm
later implemented so well). My favorite quote about security from
this panel: “I’ll read a book a stranger gives me, but I won’t eat
food a stranger offers.” (Shamir).

I looked over the exhibit hall right after lunch. My first impression
was that there are a thousand companies selling three products here,
and there’s no clear difference between them. I’ll be back to pay
more attention later in the week.

I attended three afternoon sessions. The first wasn’t very interesting;
the CTO of PGP talked about the fact that you can’t be safe just by
securing the “perimeter”, because the perimeter has become so porous
due to mobile devices and VPNs. The second talk was about
managing security products from multiple vendors. The conclusion
from this Checkpoint employee: use Checkpoint’s management tools.

The final session was a non-technical talk about security from
Bruce Schneier. It was an excellent talk, but little that was new
to anyone who read his recent book.

So far this conference seems to be at a much lower level than I was
expecting. I hope it picks up.

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