RSA’s Call to End Digital Wars Is Either Cynical Or Naive

Tom Brewster is TechWeek Europe's Security Correspondent. He has also been named BT Information Security Journalist of the Year in 2012 and 2013.

RSA has turned digital peacenik, but Tom Brewster thinks its call to end the digital arms race is ajust a cynical ploy

RSA did a good job of explaining away the story of its alleged collusion with the National Security Agency this week. There were some muted boos when RSA chief Art Coviello came on stage to open the company’s flagship conference. But after he’d done an admirable job of distancing the company from culpability, there was only applause when he departed.

But his comments on digital war were a little more suspect. He called on global governments to “renounce the use of cyber weapons and the use of the Internet for waging war”. “We must have the same abhorrence to cyber war as we do nuclear and chemical war.”

RSA: Willfully naive or on a PR drive?

RSAOther RSA execs are pushing the message too. “The alternative, being inaction and having the proliferation of more and more sophisticated armaments is just so unpalatable that the call to action is warranted. I’m with Art in the camp of naive on this one,”  said Amit Yoran, formerly the National Cyber Security Division director within the United States Department of Homeland Security, now a senior vice president at RSA.

It’s hard to believe anyone could actually believe governments are going to stop buying, creating and using attack tools against each other. So there are two possibilities here. One is that RSA is genuinely, willingly naive enough to believe that governments will listen, that they will put down their digital arms and thereby bring about a decline in the anti-malware business.

But I don’t buy that. From my perspective, this is all part of RSA’s charm offensive – and pretty cynical ploy. First, RSA stands to make plenty of money protecting against such malware. In talking about the situation in this ostensibly altruistic way, Coviello boosts RSA’s standing as the vendor to trust when it comes to preventing government-sponsored attacks.

Furthermore, the message of peace being pushed by RSA folks this week will only serve it well as the company looks to distance itself from the security world’s current bête noire, the NSA. It has to push a positive message, it cannot simply fall on its sword. That’s why it presents itself as a digital peacenik, even if it is being disingenuous, and doesn’t really believe what it is saying.

Either way, RSA has a point. Digital weapons are proliferating and they’re often used for nasty purposes, like spying on activists. Regardless of whether RSA is being entirely honest or not, there needs to be better organised opposition to this often nasty business.

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