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Ira Winkler: The RSA Conference boycott is nonsense

Ira Winkler | Jan. 15, 2014
The outrage is more about media hype, hypocrisy and grandstanding than firm principles.

Since pulling out as a speaker at the RSA Conference, this fellow's social media presence has been a blizzard of posts about his pulling out. He provides links to his blog posts clarifying his position and links to his book and to his conference. He has not been shy about speaking to media outlets. My assessment is that this guy is getting far more attention by making himself the poster child of the boycott movement than he would have gotten as one of hundreds of RSA Conference speakers.

Media hype
Yes, I said hundreds of speakers. There were 570 total speakers scheduled for the conference. That is something that has not really been mentioned in the coverage about the boycott. As of this writing, 12 speakers have pulled out. That leaves a mere 558 speakers who aren't boycotting, and there are literally thousands of experts waiting to replace those who pulled out.

So about 2% of the total number of scheduled speakers have declared that they will pull out of the RSA Conference. Maybe I shouldn't extrapolate from that, but I can't help but think that percentage roughly translates to the security community as a whole, with the majority seeing no real controversy here worthy of a boycott. But that 2% is so much more vocal than the 98%.

And this is why my biggest gripe is with the media. The media should provide perspective. Sure, publications should write about the boycott, and I have no problem with the complaints from a minority being aired publicly. But please acknowledge that it's a minority. If you read the articles from tech-focused publications and even The Wall Street Journal, you get the idea that there is a mass exodus from the conference and that the security community as a whole is in an uproar. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I have not seen any articles in the media that provide that make this clear. Take CSO Online, for example, which posted an RSA 2014 Boycott Scorecard. There's a list of those 12 boycotters, but no mention of the far more significant number of people who aren't boycotting. I won't name all of them either, but here are a few of the more prominent ones:

Gary McGraw Howard Schmidt Bruce Schneier Adam Shostack Dave Shackleford Christopher Hoff Hugh Thompson Lance Hayden Mike Murray Lance Spitzner Scott Charney Mark Weatherford Dmitri Alperovitch Rafal Los George Kurtz Kevin Poulsen Brian Krebs Steven Lipner Chris Wysopal David Mortman Gene Kim Josh Corman Marcus Ranum Matt Bishop Alan Shimel Larry Ponemon Renee Guttman John Dickson Jim Reavis John Pescatore Bret Arsenault Carolyn Wong Martin McKeay Nick Selby Gal Shpantzer Stuart McClure Mike Assante Ed Skoudis And myself, Ira Winkler

I'm leaving out the names of more than 500 other people. But a quick glance will tell you that this list is significantly longer than that other list. I guess we just haven't been vocal enough, though.


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