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In NSA backlash, some experts boycott cyber event

Backlash against RSA, the Bedford-based cybersecurity arm of EMC Corp. in Hopkinton, continues to mount following reports that it colluded with the National Security Agency on its spying program.

Several prominent computer security experts who pulled out of RSA’s annual conference, the premier gathering for the cybersecurity industry, now plan to attend a rival event being held at the same time. Organizers said they will make the NSA’s surveillance practices a major focus of that event, called the Trustworthy Technology Conference, or TrustyCon.

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Both conferences are scheduled for the last week of February in San Francisco.

At least 11 speakers canceled appearances at the RSA Conference after a Dec. 20 Reuters article reported that RSA received $10 million from the NSA to make a formula preferred by the spy agency the default option in one of its popular security products.

RSA has denied that it intentionally weakened its security program.

Some 400 people have bought tickets to attend TrustyCon. Speakers will include Mikko Hypponen, a noted security expert with the Finnish company F-Secure who was the first industry specialist to cancel his appearance at the RSA Conference.

“The goal here is to change the conversation, to not just talk about security, and to talk more about trust,” said Alex Stamos, a cybersecurity professional in San Francisco who is organizing TrustyCon. “A lot of [RSA] attendees want to talk about this issue. They don’t want to just talk about the latest security bug.”

Meanwhile, about 14,000 people have signed an online petition from the Massachusetts-based activist group Fight for the Future asking comedian Stephen Colbert, who is scheduled to give the keynote address at the RSA gathering, to withdraw.

TrustyCon is expected to be just one of many opportunities for the cybersecurity industry to protest against RSA, said Adi Kamdar of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group that is sponsoring TrustyCon.

“There is a larger activism element to TrustyCon that extends beyond the TrustyCon conference itself,” Kamdar said. He would not provide details about other protests that are expected.

Though owned and managed by RSA, the conference itself is organized by an independent program committee. RSA Conference organizers said they were aware that TrustyCon was taking place and welcomed its addition.

“It is not unusual for small events to happen alongside that aim to leverage the momentum and publicity of the RSA Conference, which is a good sign of a thriving industry event,” said Alex Bender, general manager for the RSA Conference.

“We’ve always embraced these activities and the open, healthy dialog that springs from them.”

Michael B. Farrell
can be reached at michael.farrell@globe.com.
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