Big Names On Hand At RSA Conference

On Tuesday, RSA Security kicked off its 14th annual conference with its biggest show ever, highlighting the myriad ways security is affecting all corners of the IT industry.

If the lineup of keynote speakers is any indication, 2005 will be remembered as the year the event moved firmly into the mainstream. Always a cool conference with more creative presentations than the average trade show, RSA has nevertheless resided in a niche until now. But with the increasing globalization of communications and business practices across worldwide networks, security has become a front-and-center concern of organizations of all types and sizes.

Exhibit A: The show's lead-off speaker was Bill Gates. Regardless of the mixed views people have of how Microsoft has handled security, Gates' mere presence -- as it always did with Comdex and, more recently, the Consumer Electronics Show -- elevates the RSA Conference in the public eye. Further demonstrating the convergence of security with other technologies, Cisco's John Chambers will address the attendees in one of Wednesday's keynotes.

Gates delivered a boilerplate but fairly interesting keynote speech. Tacitly acknowledging Microsoft's seemingly permanent home in the eye of the security hurricane, Gates detailed how the company is working to alleviate the concerns raised by the ever-increasing malware activity.

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"Security is a top priority for Microsoft, and it will remain one because it's the one thing we need to be absolutely sure to get right in order to unlock all the other great things we can offer," he said.

Gates announced a few new security-related tools, including a unified update center for Windows, Office and other applications, and he said Internet Explorer 7.0 will be available for beta testing this summer, ahead of next year's release of the Longhorn OS. He said that Windows Server R2, also due out next year, would include some form of federated identity management. He added that the company's Windows Anti-Spyware tool would remain free, contrary to some industry speculation. And he highlighted Microsoft's recent acquisition of antivirus and antispam vendor Sybari as central to its security strategy.

All these tools will be designed to protect users from the increasing variety of attacks in the most efficient way possible.

"Spyware and malware have risen most dramatically as a category in the past year, and 88 percent of virus incidents now occur through e-mail," Gates said. "At the same time, the complexity of managing IDs makes it almost impossible for even the most dedicated person to keep their passwords straight, so having a single engine to help manage these tasks is crucial."

Other Tuesday keynotes came from RSA CEO Art Coviello and Symantec chairman John Thompson. Both men agreed that the security industry is evolving and growing robustly, but cannot afford to take its eye off the ball for even a moment.

"Spyware and more sophisticated malware have crippled some users," Coviello said. "The result is that confidence in using the Internet is eroding in some areas."

He says RSA is banking on stronger authentication as a way to combat the new threats.

"Authentication is the foundation for trust in any interaction, but we're at a crossroads with it," he says. "We must move from point-product deployments to Internet-wide systems."

Thompson, as he often does in his public remarks, stayed away from simply providing a Symantec product road map, choosing instead to offer thoughts on the overall state of the industry, its challenges and opportunities. Addressing the presence of Gates, he leveled a not-so-subtle dig at the role of Microsoft in the security sector.

"Microsoft's solutions are necessary, but not suitable for large enterprises," he says. "Symantec provides communication tools across heterogeneous platforms; we're not distracted by computer games and other stuff like that."