Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

March 1, 2010

Geeks and Lawyers Confer on Security…

Filed under: Cybersecurity,Legal Issues — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on March 1, 2010

Today marks the opening of the RSA Conference where geeks and cyberwonks gather in San Francisco for five days of information security overload.  The conference, started in 1991 as a conference where approximately 50 cryptographers gathered to talk shop, is expecting more than 11,000 attendees this year and includes 250 sessions across 18 tracks.   Since 1995, the conference has focused on a unique theme to highlight a “significant historical contribution to or illustration of cryptography, mathematics, or information security.”  This year’s theme is the Rosetta Stone, designed to remember “the Rosetta Stone’s legacy to modern Egyptology and its lasting message on the power of collaboration.”

Expect a good share of government officials – from the Department of Homeland Security to the FBI to the White House to the Department of Defense to Congress – to be wandering around the conference.   DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller are both slated to speak.  According to a release from conference organizers, Napolitano will “speak to the impact of information security on today’s society and how cybersecurity will continue to be a key area of focus for the Department of Homeland Security in the coming years,” while Mueller will “detail cyber threats through the years – from criminal threats like computer intrusions and identity theft to the use of the Internet by extremists and hostile foreign powers.”  Will be interesting to learn what insight each offers on the growing cybersecurity challenge and what is being done within the government to address that challenge.

Also slated to speak is Howard Schmidt, the recently appointed  “cyberczar” or, if you prefer, his official title – “White House Cybersecurity Coordinator, National Security Council, Executive Office of the President.”  Schmidt will give a keynote and, according to the conference schedule, will be busy participating in a number of other events, including a town hall sponsored by the Business Software Alliance.  In many ways, RSA represents a coming out for Schmidt. He has appeared and spoken at some DC-oriented events but this is (I believe) the first time he has been in a national venue and the first time where experts and industry will get a public account of what to expect from the Obama Administration on cybersecurity going forward.  It is big task but, as a veteran and well-respected expert on cybersecurity (including public-private partnerships), Schmidt should be up to the task.

Other big-name former government officials who have tackled cybersecurity are also plentiful. Schmidt’ predecessor (at least in an acting status), Melissa Hathaway, is slated to speak on a panel on “Delivering a Unified and Resilient National Cyber Security Framework” and former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff and the first cyber-czar under President Clinton, Dick Clarke, are also on the agenda.

Moving from wonks to lawyers (if there is really a difference), back in D.C., the American Bar Association will be hosting its Fifth Annual Homeland Security Law Institute.  Chaired by Joe D. Whitley, former General Counsel of DHS, the conference gathers together practitioners  to examine legal issues surrounding various homeland security areas.  Among the panels topics:  homeland defense, international issues, chemical and personnel security, supply chain, CFIUS, immigration, detention of terror suspects, cybersecurity, privacy, homeland security grants, and H1N1.

Among the keynote speakers – Senator Susan Collins, Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee,  W. Craig Fugate, the Administrator of  FEMA, and New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.

Two very different conferences offering different perspectives on how to address homeland security problems.  Stay tuned to any announcements or surprises that might come from either conference.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

March 1, 2010 @ 8:16 pm

Great post and timely. What always interests me is that none of these conferences ever really come to grips with the nity gritty of the problems within their respective arenas. Do Robert Mueller and Janet N. have any idea who, how, where, when and whatever runs their COMSEC programs, their computer security programs, their cyber security programs below the level of the top tier appointees. Have they attended the annual training mandated for all levels of government officials involved in these areas? Have they focused on the largely wasted post 9/11 effort to develop, implement and operate new systems replacing old legacy systems or the systems promised and paid for several times over and never delivered. Hey, why does OMB have a trump hand on Computer Security through Circular A-120? Whey is cyber security operated separately and appart administratively from computer security? What and how do these areas relate to COMSEC? The whole system is compartmentalized and adminstered in a way that no one is accountable and no one can even begin to find out if their are duplications or overlaps, or more important gaping holes in the various efforts at developing protective shields. And of course how about not just talking defense but talking offense. I could make the argument that GIS is much more important than some of the subjects to be discussed at the conference–have we ever heard discussion of protecting GIS systems and various US satellites that make that possible. We now know that basic AF drone ops have long been subjected to opponents actually observing the views from the drones? Some say that is possible with a $100 application or even less. Some say it could all have been protected and incrypted for less than $100. With drone technology spreading agency by agency and department by department throughout the Executive Branch what about the topic of protecting and controlling that development. Hey perhaps everyone at the conference should watch the Director’s Cut of Bladerunner with Harrison Ford.

Comment by christopher tingus

March 2, 2010 @ 4:41 am

William Cumming,

I agree with your views, at least we have the geeks talking and sharing information and perspectives. If all can get beyond the stroking of egos and name badges, maybe we can see some real exchange in ideas, the resilency necessary.

Yes, maybe the will not “come to grips with the nitty-gritty” however while I do not understand why these folks have this issue of not getting into more depth and posing important questions seeking innovative and valued solutions, at least they are talking as time passes and the reality is upon us that all these geeks are the folks we rely on when an event(s) occur.

I wish you had been invited to speak and set the agenda! We need the best and the brightest willing to think out of the box and toss their egos aside for the opposition posing an ongoing threat seeking our demise should not be discounted.

Increased chatter, heightened Middle East tensions and the “Brutes of Tehran” seeking to exploit the region foretells many challenges during an economic recovery waning and the German-led EU calling for removal of 200 US WMD from their soil which is fine w/me for it is time we let the Germans and others take care of themselves as they have had plenty of time since ’45 to find their way. The flexing of muscle and the competition in trade and militarily is not appreciated here after all the assistance we offered Europeans and it will be the Europeans and Iranians who will have to punch it out!

God Bless America! Let’s strengthen our borders and truly address this immigration nightmare which is unacceptable by a group on both sides of the aisle “entrusted” by our precious vote resulting in a a void in leadership, a government which should be replaced by folks who understand how proud we are of our nation!

Oust them all for this self-serving agenda is quite contrary of the oath each has sworn to….term limits…term limits must be imposed for the professional politician and the special interests groups should be considered as adversaries of the basics as put forth by our esteemed founding Fathers!

Well, at this early hour, I will go back to making every effort to furnishing portable water purification units and proposing housing solutions as well as addressing much needed waste water treatment projects for Haiti, Chile, Africa and the Middle East with Wall Street turning its cheek when I ask them to help finance over $1billion in project(s) requirments – all profitable projects – however all seem too busy writing their bonus checks versus investing with a return on monies while offering children even from the Ganges River, a clean glass of water!

Christopher Tingus
Harwich, MA 02645 USA


Comment by William R. Cumming

March 2, 2010 @ 4:56 am

I have some experience with German nuclear fears, policies, and experience. Personally, and I know this is being like a Nostradamus, I think removal of all Nuclear Weapons under US custody from Germany will result not in what most Germans expect and hope for a “Nuclear Free Zone” as far a weaponary but instead a like drive by Germany to develop and deploy its own WMD arsenal. Perhaps I could be wrong but underneath the “Green” party in Germany and others is a very very fervant and unreconstructed nationalism or ethnic cohesiveness that since May 1945 has lain dormant. The Germans have done a great job understanding themselves and their problems and past, better than the US or rest of Europe, but that does not mean some tatters on the fringes of German Democracy just as in US and hoping those tatters don’t turn into rips.

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