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RSA preview: Crypto panel 'less about crypto'

The highlight to the annual RSA Conference is the Cryptographers Panel, which has morphed into a dissertation on the security issues of the day.

Time was when the RSA Conference used to be all about cryptography.

At its origins 13 years ago, RSA was an intimate gathering of 50 or so cryptographers talking algorithms spread out through a few hotel conference rooms. Today, thousands of IT security professionals descend on San Francisco to talk about the security issues of the day, reducing cryptography to a smaller component of the show.

Still the Cryptographers Panel remains one of the conference highlights, if for no other reason, the star power it attracts to the stage.

The interesting thing is that [the panel is] becoming less and less about cryptography. It's a good forum because people on the panel have interesting things to say and people want to listen to them.
Bruce Schneier
CTOCounterpane Internet Security Inc.

Crypto heavyweights Ron Rivest and Adi Shamir, who founded the RSA cryptosystem with Leonard Adleman, are mainstays on the panel as are Sun Microsystems CSO Whitfield Diffie, Paul Kocher, president of Cryptography Research Inc., and moderator Bruce Schneier, CTO at Counterpane Internet Security Inc.

"If you follow the path from Bruce Schneier to Paul Kocher to Peter Neumann you find yourself with a cryptographer who is very well known for his work in other areas of security, an expert in cryptography implementation problems, and a master of secure operating system design and general analysis of real-world security problems," Diffie said. "

The blend of the panelists' experience provides attendees with a solid reality check on what's happening in security and how it applies to their day-to-day responsibilities.

"The interesting thing is that [the panel is] becoming less and less about cryptography," Schneier said. "It's a good forum because people on the panel have interesting things to say and people want to listen to them."

Diffie explained that the panel often discusses the newest cryptosystems, attacks and applications of cryptography. Organizational and political developments, along with technological trends often are good agenda topics. A year ago, the panel kicked around the key lengths they favored for RSA.

"This year, we may find ourselves discussing the impact of the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI's desire for expanded wiretapping, the future of Trusted Platform Modules, or the influence of Hollywood's quest for "Digital Rights Management," Diffie said.

Sometimes panelists identify trends that become ubiquitous in a short time span.

"I can remember three years ago, Ron Rivest talking about RFID tags, and now they're mainstream," said Sandra LaPedis, general manager of the RSA Conference. "The panel usually provides a glimpse into security's future, not just cryptography. They all understand the practical applications of security and it's fascinating to hear what they talk about."

The Cryptographers Panel at RSA Conference 2004 is scheduled for Feb. 24 at 11 a.m. and features panelists Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir, Whitfield Diffie and Paul Kocher. Bruce Schneier is the moderator.


Click here for's exclusive coverage of RSA Conference 2004, San Francisco

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