AusCERT 2019: The Great Debate

Each year, AusCERT invites information security thought leaders from around the world to learn from each other through dozens of talks and sessions. And every year, the conference finishes in the same way. The AusCERT Speed Debate brings together nine speakers from the event and pits them against each other in a series of six debates.

For each topic, three speakers argue for the affirmative and three for the negative. By the end, each person has participated in four debates, speaking for a minute on each topic. This year, the six topics were"

  • Personalised ads are morally wrong
  • Apps need a code-worthy certificate, just as cars need a roadworthy certificate
  • Open source is organised plagiarism
  • We need an internet Paris Accord for information pollution
  • Vuln researchers can do no wrong; they need diplomatic immunity
  • Cybersecurity is not very important

As usual, the arguments ranged from the frivolous to the banal although some small nuggets of wisdom managed to sneak through the cracks.

The arguments for topic one started with the two obvious counterpoints that machine learning has proven to be a poor tool for deciding what ads we should see through to it's better to get repeated ads that are roughly targeted and the obvious argument that if we want the internet to remain free then we have to put up with ads.

The negative team, with Mikko Hypponen, Brad Duncan and Troy Hunt won that one.

Debate two also went the negative team. The most 'interesting' argument came from Brad Duncan who argued that a process of app certification was a nice ideal. But so was communism. He was joined by Jake Carroll who argued that a program his children wanted wouldn't run on their Macs as the certificate was invalid, thus ruining Christmas. While the team of Justin Steven, Heidi Winter and Jessy Irwin made a strong argument, the audience vote was dominated by the negative team.

The premise that open source is organised plagiarism was forcefully, and somewhat comically, argued by both teams in debate three with the affirmative saying there's no point reinventing the wheel if you can steal it while the negative argument coalesced around the argument that open source software is a gift to society.

With the affirmative team defeated for the third time, host and moderator Adam Spencer wondered if the affirmative was going to pick up a win. It turned out that debate four wasn't going to change things with the affirmative team again trounced.

Read more: AusCERT 2019: How security teams can evolve to win friends and influence people

Brian Hay was joined by Colby Prior and Justin Steven, defeating Hunt, Carroll and Winter. While no one really believes there isn't plenty of misinformation online, the idea that much of the misinformation is hilarious won the day and that regulating content will result in increased costs.

The affirmative teams that battled out the final two debates finally prevailed, successfully arguing that vuln researchers need diplomatic immunity as they find the problems we don’t know about. The negative team's argument, that could be summarised as 'ignorance is bliss' because if the vulns aren't found, we have nothing to worry about. Brad Duncan's arguments, based around watching Lethal Weapon 2 fell on deaf ears.

Sadly for all those in attendance who have staked their careers on working in the security industry, the affirmative team won the argument about cybersecurity not being very important. Perhaps the strongest point made came from Hypponen who said there is no cyber - just security. However, that was after a brief distraction where Hypponen remembered the days when cyber wasn't shorthand for cybersecurity - it meant cybersex.


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