Rachel Metz

A View from Rachel Metz

At TrustyCon, Hypponen Says What He Won't at RSA

RSA isn’t the only computer security conference in San Francisco this week.

  • February 28, 2014

On Thursday morning, Mikko Hypponen spoke to a crowd in a movie theater in downtown San Francisco, just around the corner from the RSA security conference. Hypponen, the chief research officer at Finnish security software company F-Secure, was originally scheduled to speak this week at RSA, as he’s done eight times since 2004. But he decided to boycott the conference after Reuters reported in December that the U.S. National Security Agency had a secret $10 million contract with RSA, the computer security company behind the conference, under which RSA added a faulty encryption algorithm created by the NSA to one of its computer security products in order to allow the agency to break such encryption when needed.

Hypponen wasn’t alone. Several others in the industry (security consultancy iSEC Partners, digital rights nonprofit the Electronic Frontier Foundation, hacker conference DEF CON) felt likewise, and quickly organized the daylong TrustyCon—billed as a “trustworthy technology conference”—to serve as an alternative to RSA in a theater at the nearby AMC Metreon. It had 400 attendee slots, which organizers said sold out.

Speaking early in the day’s schedule, Hypponen addressed the crowd with the same talk he planned to give at RSA, which would have been titled “Governments as Malware Authors” (it was listed on TrustyCon’s agenda as “The Talk I Was Going to Give at RSA”).

Hypponen spoke about how far-reaching, sophisticated, and threatening government surveillance has become, especially as we become increasingly connected and spend much of our time online feeding data to just a handful of big American Internet companies. He also focused in part on the word of the day, trust, by discussing how reliant customers are on security companies to help keep computers from being hacked.

Though Hypponen said he was “happy” to not be wearing an RSA Conference badge, he also seemed a bit saddened and frustrated as he addressed the crowd, both by RSA’s action and how the U.S. government’s appettite for surveillance is affecting the security industry and private citizens.

“I work for a security company. Security companies work on the basis of trust. If our users don’t trust us, there’s really nothing left,” he said.

If you’d like to watch Hypponen’s talk, it’s available here.

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