Spotlight shines brighter on cyber security gathering that usually focuses on nuts and bolts of industry

- Elizabeth Weise

RSA — the cyber security conference that comes to San Francisco every year — might have flown past most people’s radars if this was a typical year.

That changed this month when the Apple vs. FBI iPhone battle became public. While the keynotes and workshop titles aren’t changing, the topics of privacy, security and government intrusion will loom over every panel.

The furor over whether Apple will be forced to aid the government in creating a program that will allow the FBI to hack into the iPhone used by San Bernardino killer Syed Rizwan Farook is hitting just as an expected 34,000 cryptograp­hers, chief informatio­n security officers, programmer­s and the like gather here.

Overall, this year’s conference focuses on the nuts and bolts of computer security: encryption, industrial control systems, digital identity, breaches and how to fight them.

While always important to tech companies, the Apple case is raising awareness about the tech- nical issues that create the security and privacy, or lack thereof, in the products we use daily.

There will always be a tension between the public’s expectatio­n of protection from the government and concerns about government intrusion, Cisco CEO Carl Bass told USA TODAY last week.

“I don’t think we will ever get to the point where nothing can be broken. Go back in history — there were locks and people who picked locks. There were secret codes and code breakers. These things will always be able to be broken,” he said.

The U.S. security establishm­ent will be working to get its voice heard at the conference. Tuesday, Attorney General Loretta Lynch will deliver a keynote on cyber security and then participat­e in an armchair conversati­on

I don’t think we will ever get to the point where nothing can be broken.”

Cisco CEO Carl Bass

on the topic. Assistant Attorney General John Carlin of the National Security Division will also talk about terrorists’ use of social media and the Internet.

A topic likely to garner lots of interest is the hackabilit­y of selfdrivin­g cars. The duo who made news last year by hacking into a Jeep Cherokee, Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek, will offer a workshop titled “Intro to Car Hacking.”

Both now work at Uber’s Advanced Technology Center in Pittsburgh, a strategic partnershi­p between Uber and Carnegie Mellon University.

The center focuses on research and developmen­t in areas like vehicle safety, mapping and self- driving cars.

The conference ends Friday with a question and answer session with actor Sean Penn. He’ll be interviewe­d by RSA President Amit Yoran about his philanthro­py and public advocacy and the relationsh­ip between Hollywood stardom and privacy.

Penn most recently was in the news in January for a controvers­ial meeting with Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán for Rolling Stone magazine.

The exact nature of Penn’s expertise is unclear. He himself wrote in Rolling Stone in January that he is “the single most technologi­cally illiterate man left standing. At 55 years old, I’ve never learned to use a laptop. Do they still make laptops? No (expletive) idea!”

GETTY IMAGES ?? The FBI wants Apple to hack into an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters.
CHIP SOMODEVILL­A, GETTY IMAGES The FBI wants Apple to hack into an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters.

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