Two Googlers, Mozilla’s privacy chief and others boycott RSA 2014 in NSA-backdoor protest

Eight security experts scheduled to speak at the RSA US conference next month have now dropped out in response to claims RSA was paid to use a flawed NSA formula in its Bsafe product.

Google software engineer, Adam Langley and Mozilla’s global chief of privacy Alex Fowler and six other security and privacy experts have announced they would cancel their talks at this year’s RSA conference over allegations the EMC-owned company accepted $10m from the National Security Agency to use its purposely flawed random number generator known as “Dual EC DRBG” in its BSafe product.

Langley, who works on Google’s HTTPS server infrastructure and Chrome, wrote in a Twitter update on Tuesday: “I've become convinced that a public stance serves more than self-aggrandisement, so: I've pulled out of the Cryptographers Panel at RSA 2014,”

Responding to questions from other security professionals, Mozilla’s Fowler also announced his decision to withdraw.

“Add me; just backed out of the "Hot Topics in Privacy: A Dialog with Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Mozilla & Twitter" panel at RSA,” he wrote.

The two and others follow Mikko Hypponen, the Finnish chief research officer of security company F-Secure, who announced in late December he would cancel his talk at RSA, one of the largest corporate security conferences in the US.

Hypponen posted an open letter addressed to RSA and EMC chiefs announcing his withdrawal shortly after Reuters reported claims that RSA was paid $10m to use the flawed random number generator.

Interestingly, he believed other speakers, since they were mostly Americans, wouldn’t follow suit. “Why would they care about surveillance that’s not targeted at them but at non-Americans”, he wrote.

The jury is still out as to whether RSA was tricked by the NSA into using the flawed generator or willingly employed it, though RSA has since denied it was contracted to use it.

US consultancy Errata Security has compiled a list of all speakers that have canceled talks at RSA so far. As of Tuesday, others amongst the boycotters are Google Chrome security engineer Chris Palmer, privacy advocate Chris Soghoian, Josh Thomas, “chief breaking officer” of security firm Atredis, Jeffrey Carr, founder and CEO of security consultancy Taia Global, Marcia Hofmann, a digital rights lawyer at the EFF.

Explaining the case for singling out RSA for a boycott compared to other companies whose infrastructure has been compromised by the NSA, Errata Security consultant Robert Graham (who was not scheduled to speak at the conference) says RSA is a unique case.

“The Snowden leaks make us suspicious of other companies, like Google, Yahoo, Apple, Microsoft, and Verizon, but only with RSA do we have a "smoking gun". In some cases the companies had no choice (Verizon). In other cases, it appears that rather than cooperating with the government, the companies may in fact be yet another victim (Google). RSA is the standout that deserves our attention.”

“If you are a security company, and you get caught back-dooring your security for the NSA, you should go out of business,” he added.

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