RSA Conference Gets off to a Low Key Start

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Against an omnipresent backdrop of recession and uncertainty, IT security pros this week will gather at an RSA Conference focused on malware proliferation, protection of virtualized and cloud computing environments, and the specter of rising government involvement in their work.

Slideshow: The hottest products from the RSA conference.

Though attendance in recent years has hit 17,000, conference organizers say this year's 18th annual gathering will likely draw fewer to see and hear from some 325 vendors spread across the exhibit floor of San Francisco's Moscone Center.

One telling sign of the times: RSA Conference is extending free passes worth more than $2,000 to 25 individuals described as "victims of corporate downsizing … who lost their jobs due to the economic environment."

There will be no shortage of industry star power on hand.

Enrique Salem, who just this month became president and CEO of Symantec, will take the stage in a keynote address expected to delve into the exploding growth in malware and what approaches can be taken to confront it. His company just last week released its annual threat report summary, which points out unique malware specimens more than doubled in 2008.

RSA President Art Coviello, will try and rally the industry to tackle the security issues surrounding online collaboration, and mobile and cloud computing.

RSA will be announcing what it calls "Project Share," which will include offering the RSA BSAFE encryption toolkits -- specifically those used for C++ and Java applications -- for free. Such toolkits would otherwise cost tens of thousands of dollars and more. RSA is also expected to make significant announcements concerning VMware (which EMC also owns) and security.

Cisco's John Chambers is scheduled to talk about online collaboration and security, while McAfee CEO Dave DeWalt discusses the impact of cybercrime.

Besides industry execs, the U.S. government will be represented in keynote presentations by Melissa Hathaway, the Obama Administration's acting director for cyberspace and Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency (NSA) and chief of central security services. Hathaway is expected to present the findings of the Administration's promised 60-day "Cyber Security Review," which could set a new pace for regulation and defense of networks pertaining to critical infrastructure.

NSA's Alexander will speak to the prospects for "public-private partnership" for cybersecurity. But the counterpoint is likely to come from noted writer, James Bamford, author of the "Shadow Factory" and other books about the super-secretive NSA, in his own keynote address at RSA.

Indeed, the RSA Conference is going to be a forum for the controversial theme of how far the government can or should go to take control of networks and conduct surveillance, and whether there is already something of a Cyber Cold War occurring.

Contentious issues in virtualization security will be debated by panelists that will include one of the founding fathers of software virtualization, Simon Crosby, CTO at Citrix, who helped invent open source Xen.

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