Colbert Holds a Mirror to the RSA Conference Audience

In a closing keynote address at the 2014 RSA Conference, acclaimed comedian, actor and political satirist Stephen Colbert was able to simultaneously entertain and challenge a room filled with security experts from across the world. But it was all laughs. There were moments when the crowd squirmed in their seats.

“Let me begin by saying, 0110100001101001. And I mean that,” opened Colbert – an easy gag for the start of a technology conference speech but one that seemed to be softening up the crowd for some tough questions later.

His biggest opening laugh came when he said "RSA developed this conference in 1991 as a forum for cryptographers to gather and talk shop, and I assume breed with one another. Of course officially that's called exchanging private keys".

Early in his speech, Colbert acknowledged that there had been a petition circulated imploring him to boycott the event, as did several speakers, in response to revelations last year that RSA had received significant sums of money from the NSA and an alleged link between those fiunds and the NSA's access to data that customers believed was secured using RSA's equipment.

"First, as a freedom lover I don’t engage in boycotts; I eat Iranian apricots, smoke Cuban cigars, and snort North Korean meth. Two, I looked at the signatures on the petition and then looked at my signature on the contract for my appearance here so my conscience is clear, as long as the check clears. Although they didn't give me a check but a stash of Bitcoins from Mt Gox."

When it came to Bitcoin, Colbert noted that if there was an apocalypse, he would invest in "sheep, potable water and tradeable women". A cheap line but one that highlights the problems facing virtual currencies that do not have a physical element.

Colbert noted some of the other speakers at the event and had the audience laughing with quips such inviting Scott Charney from Microsoft to speak was like inviting someone from an Orwellian dystopia.
He reserved special "praise" for FBI director James Comey, who argued that security and, by extension, surveillance were necessary for privacy.

"Well said director. I'm sure that under enhanced liberty you can have all the privacy that you want, just like under enhanced interrogation you can breathe all the water you want."

At this point, Colbert started to heat up his satirical blowtorch, and addressed the Snowden revelations and actions of the NSA.

"He took top secret intelligence to China and then to Russia - was Mordor not accepting asylum requests? I see the Norwegians gave Snowden 30 Nobel Prize nominations. The guy's practically a war criminal. I don't understand how they could put him up for the same prize they once gave to Henry Kissinger."

Colbert asked for a show of hands to get a feel for how many people supported Snowden and his actions and how many didn’t. Although those who don’t support Snowden were more numerous, at least three-quarters of the audience did not vote one way or the other, indicating that the jury of public opinion, even among security experts, is still out.

"We can trust the NSA because without a doubt it is history's most powerful, pervasive, sophisticated surveillance agency ever to be totally pwned by a 29-year-old with a thumb drive," he said.

By the end of his speech, Colbert had managed to make the audience laugh but put a spotlight on some of the complex issues facing security and intelligence communities, and the general public. But rather than laying the blame on a specific agency he told the audience that it was everyone's fault.

“We all deserve credit for this new surveillance state that we live in because we the people voted for the PATRIOT Act. Democrats and Republicans alike,” he said near the end of his speech. “We voted for the people who voted for it, and then voted for the people who reauthorized it, then voted for the people who re-re-authorized it.”

 

For more RSA Content check out our Special Edition site.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags cryptographers#rsa2014rsaconference 2014@RSACnsaJames ComeyStephen ColbertprivacyrsaBitcoinrsa securitysecurity

More about FBIMicrosoftNSARSAScott Corporation

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Anthony Caruana

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    IDG Live Webinar:The right collaboration strategy will help your business take flight

    Speakers - Mike Harris, Engineering Services Manager, Jetstar - Christopher Johnson, IT Director APAC, 20th Century Fox - Brent Maxwell, Director of Information Systems, THE ICONIC - IDG MC/Moderator Anthony Caruana

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place