Last week’s well-attended RSA Conference (“Where the world talks security”) in San Francisco was notable not so much for what was there, but rather for what was not. The right speakers were gathered, talking about the right topics, and making all the correct points. But missing were answers and solutions to one of the world’s most important issues today: how to protect and guarantee the safety of the Internet.
It took none other than Vint Cerf, Chief Internet evangelist for Google and one of the Web’s widely recognized founders, to call out the elephant in the room. Cerf, whose trademark three piece suit, french cuffs, silk tie and pocket handkerchief, gives him the appearance more of a high-level diplomat than a Silicon Valley tech guru, pleaded for simple ideas to build more secure systems. “I’m not presenting you with a design,” said Cerf. “I’m presenting you with homework.”
Cerf’s challenge before a packed house at RSA’s massive keynote hall, was to create a unique device that can generate a reliable public/private key. In other words, we need a system that capitalizes on the need for strong authentication. Not everyone on the web is who they say they are, and therein lies the big problem today.
He underscored the urgency to find this solution soon by pointing out the massive explosion of devices that are being wirelessly connected. “I have been frankly astonished at some of the things that have wound up on the Internet,” said Cerf in amazement.
Another cloud on the security horizon involves smartphones and increasing vulnerability of the mobile platform. At one conference session, Grayson Milbourne of Webroot presented data that showed malware incidents had grown from 13,000 samples by the start of 2012 to 180,000 by last January in Android phones. Google has beefed up Android security considerably through newly released versions of Jelly Bean, but Milbourne’s data demonstrates the growing risks that smartphones and their apps now offer to a connected public hungry for more robust mobile technology.
This year’s RSA Conference showed that a lot of very smart people are monitoring the Internet carefully and have a realistic picture of the threats. The smartest ones will hopefully be back in San Francisco next year with answers and solutions that will make our increasingly more complicated world more secure.