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Stop saying 'Cyber Pearl Harbor,' RSA boss pleads

Some people aren't getting the message, however

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RSA 2013 Art Coviello, executive president of RSA, used the opening keynote of the RSA conference to criticize the habits of some in the industry for spreading fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) as a marketing tool.

"I absolutely hate the term 'Cyber Pearl Harbor'," he said. "I just think it's a poor metaphor to describe the state we are really in. What do I do differently once I've heard it? And I've been hearing it for 10 years now. To trigger a physically destructive event solely from the internet might not be impossible, but it is still, as of today, highly unlikely."

Far more concerning is the economic impact of hacking, and the cost in terms of reputation that victims could face. Coviello cited the recent wave of attacks against US banks as an example of this and warned that similar attacks were coming, one way or the other. But the amount of FUD out there was causing people to back away from sorting out security, he said.

Nevertheless, Coviello wasn't above spreading a few FUD-like warnings himself. Last year saw the concept of Big Data really make it into the mainstream, he said, but added that the move to storing such massive data sets was inherently risky, particularly as they are taken into the cloud.

By coincidence, RSA has just brought out its own Big Data security systems. Last month it announced a Security Analytics appliance that trawls though large data sets, and today it unveiled version 8 of its Authentication Manager, which is also configured for Big Data and uses a transactional risk engine based on feedback from 50 billion data points.

In the second keynote of the day, Scott Charney, VP of Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing Group, also struck an optimistic note, saying that while threats were out there, it was remarkable how far the industry had come towards its goal of fighting back against the online criminals.

"I'm an optimist," he said. "You can be an optimist because you're delusional or you can be an optimist for a reason. There is a case for optimism."

But as the first day of the RSA wears on, it's clear that no one got Coviello's message about scaling back on the FUD factor. In one panel, Michael Chertoff, formerly President Bush's Secretary of Homeland Security and now perv-scanner pimp lobbyist, warned that we might be facing a cyber 9/11. As the French say, "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose" ("the more things change, the more they stay the same"). ®

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