RSA 2013: Keynotes highlight state of optimism and fear

In a trio of keynotes that kicked off RSA Conference 2013 this morning, attendees were told that despite significant setbacks in recent years, all is not lost in the battle to regain control over their IT systems and data.

In his "Big Data Redefines Security" keynote, Art Coviello, executive vice president, EMC and executive chairman, RSA, made the case that more intelligent use of the security-relevant data available will create more resilient, secured systems.

Symantec President of Products and Services Francis deSouza also talked about the importance of security intelligence.

More from RSA Conference 2013: RSA 2013:Weatherford outlines 'cyber 9-1-1' plan

And in his keynote, "Making a Case for Security Optimism," Scott Charney, corporate vice president of Trustworthy Computing at Microsoft, argued that despite high-profile breaches, there have been big successes - particularly in the realm of hardware security like Trusted Boot, the Secure Software Development Lifecycle and growing maturity in enterprise IT security operations.

If the story of IT security does end well, it's going to be a long narrative arc, the speakers suggested.

"Could things get worse before they get better? Perhaps," said Coviello. "And although collectively we are not winning, we haven't lost yet, either."

Perhaps not, but new research from Symantec Corp. provides a glimpse into the sophistication of the threat enterprises and governments face as part of that story arc Coviello mentioned.

According to its report, " Stuxnet 0.5: How It Evolved", the Stuxnet worm - which had an attack payload that actually altered the speed of nuclear centrifuges - had a predecessor with a different attack technique. According to Symantec, a version that actually dates back to 2005 was designed to manipulate the targeted nuclear facility's gas valves, rather than the centrifuges, as a way to disrupt nuclear processes. The original Stuxnet worm became widely known in 2010 and was the first known cyber-weapon that directly targeted industrial control systems.

Such sophisticated attacks will become much more commonplace in the future, most experts say, as the knowledge needed to create cyber weapons is widely available. Five years ago only a few nations had advanced cyber attack capabilities, said Symantec's deSouza. "That's changed dramatically in the past two years," he said, as many more nations now possess sophisticated IT attack capabilities.

"Most countries today have a cyber command, and then there is the emergence of contractors who are able to create or repurpose cyber weapons," deSouza said. And as a result, "Most countries [today] have capabilities to cause disruptions in ways with cyber warfare that they never would have been able to achieve with kinetic warfare."

Read more about data protection in CSOonline's Data Protection section.

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