As most of the industry gets ramped up for the festivities of the 2010 RSA Conference next week in San Francisco, your friends at Securosis have decided to make things a bit easier for you. We’re putting the final touches on our first Securosis Guide to the RSA Conference. As usual, we’ll preview the content on the blog and have the piece packaged in its entirety as a paper you can carry around at the conference. We’ll post the entire PDF tomorrow, and through the rest of this week we’ll be highlighting content from the guide. To kick things off, let’s tackle what we expect to be the key themes of the show this year.

Haxors start your livers...

Key Themes

How many times have you shown up at the RSA Conference to see the hype machine fully engaged about a topic or two? Remember 1999 was going to be the Year of PKI? And 2000. And 2001. And 2002. So what’s going to be news of the show in 2010? Here is a quick list of three topics that will likely be top of mind at RSA, and why you should care.

Cloud/Virtualization Security

Cloud computing and virtualization are two of the hottest trends in information technology today, and we fully expect this trend to extend into RSA sessions and the show floor. There are few topics as prone to marketing abuse and general confusion as cloud computing and virtualization, despite some significant technological and definitional advances over the past year. But don’t be confused – despite the hype this is an important area. Virtualization and cloud computing are fundamentally altering how we design and manage our infrastructure and consume technology services – especially within data centers. This is definitely a case of “where there’s smoke, there’s fire”.

Although virtualization and cloud computing are separate topics, they have a tight symbiotic relationship. Virtualization is both a platform for, and a consumer of, cloud computing. Most cloud computing deployments are based on virtualization technology, but the cloud can also host virtual deployments. We don’t really have the space to fully cover virtualization and cloud computing in this guide, though we will dig a layer deeper later. We highly recommend you take a look at the architectural section of the Cloud Security Alliance’s Security Guidance for Critical Areas of Focus in Cloud Computing (PDF). We also draw your attention to the Editorial Note on Risk on pages 9-11, but we’re biased because Rich wrote it.

Cyber-crime & Advanced Persistent Threats

Since it’s common knowledge that not only government networks but also commercial entities are being attacked by well-funded, state-sponsored, and very patient adversaries, you’ll hear a lot about APT (advanced persistent threats) at RSA. First let’s define APT, which is an attacker focused on you (or your organization) with the express objective of stealing sensitive data. APT does not specify an attack vector, which may or may not be particularly advanced – the attacker will do only what is necessary to achieve their objective.

Securosis has been in the lead of trying to deflate the increasing hype around APT, but vendors are predictable animals. Where customer fear emerges the vendors circle like vultures, trying to figure out how their existing widgets can be used to address the new class of attacks. But to be clear, there is no silver bullet to stop or even detect an APT – though you will likely see a lot of marketing buffoonery discussing how this widget or that could have detected the APT. Just remember the Tuesday morning quarterback always completes the pass, and we’ll see a lot of that at RSA.

It’s not likely any widget would detect an APT because an APT isn’t an attack, it’s a category of attacker. And yes, although China is usually associated with APT, it’s bigger than one nation-state. It’s a totally new threat model. This nuance is important, because it means the adversary will do what is necessary to compromise your network. In one instance it may be a client-side 0-day, in another it could be a SQL injection attack. If the attack can’t be profiled, then there is no way a vendor can “address the issue.”

But there are general areas of interest for folks worried about APT and other targeted attacks, and those are detection and forensics. Since you don’t know how they will get in, you have to be able to detect and investigate the attack as quickly as possible – we call this “React Faster”. Thus the folks doing full packet capture and forensic data collection should be high on your list of companies to check out on the show floor. You’ll also want to check out some sessions, including Rich and Mike’s Groundhog Day panel, where APT will surely be covered.


Compliance as a theme for RSA? Yes, you have heard this before. Unlike 2005, though, ‘compliance’ is not just a buzzword, but a major driver for the funding and adoption of most security technologies. Assuming you are aware of current compliance requirements, you will be hearing about new requirements and modifications to existing regulations (think PCI next or HIPAA/HiTech evolution). This is the core of IT’s love/hate relationship with compliance. Regulatory change means more work for you, but at the same time if you need budget for a security project in today’s economy, you need to associate the project with a compliance mandate and cost savings at the same time. Both vendors and customers should be talking a lot about compliance because it helps both parties sell their products and projects, respectively.

The good news at this point is that security vendors do provide value in documenting compliance. They have worked hard to incorporate policies and reports specific to common regulations into their products, and provide management and customization to address the needs of other constituencies. But there will still be plenty of hype around ease of use and time to value. So there will be plenty of red “Easy PCI” buttons to bring back for your kids, and promises of “Instant Sarbanes-Oxley” and “Comprehensive HIPAA support” in every brochure.

We also expect to see considerable hot air directed towards Massachusetts 201 CMR 17.00 privacy and disclosure regulation, but it’s not clear this requirement will be adopted on a national scale. At this point, unless you have customers in MA, you probably don’t need to pay much attention this year. In general, you already know the regulations you need to worry about, so don’t get too excited when someone tells you compliance with GBRSH 590 or FUBR 140 is mandatory. There are lots of proposed ‘standards’ out there, but questions of ‘if’, ‘when’, and ‘how’ regarding compliance are less certain.

Also keep in mind that Securosis is sticking to its Security First mindset. Focus on protecting private and sensitive data with security controls you can document, and your compliance efforts will be significantly streamlined.