Pioneers in the security field spoke about the state of security at a cryptographer's panel at the RSA security conference.
Various questions about general issues surrounding cybersecurity were tackled, but the dominating topic was cloud computing.
"I'm worried about cloud computing," said Adi Shamir, a computer science professor at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. He said computation centers in hosted computing could spread problems such as viruses more widely.
"Cloud computing is a challenge to security, but one that can be overcome," said Whitfield Diffie, chief security officer at Sun. "I believe cloud computing will get to [the point] where no real program…will be done anymore on the computers of the company that's doing it," he said.
Bruce Schneier, chief security technology officer at BT Counterpane, said: "I'm kind of bored with it." Schneier said that although cloud computing is presented as a new paradigm. He did not see a lot of differences between it and client-server and dumb terminals. "It's still all about trust," he added.
Asked about their thoughts on the likelihood of a 'Digital Pearl Harbor', the researchers concurred that the threat is hyped.
The talk about risks of a cyberattack on the magnitude of a Pearl Harbor strike is overblown, said Schneier. The real threat "will be boring things" such as viruses, identity theft and buffer overflows. "We're better as an industry if we look at the more common risks... that cost [people] money."
"We're more likely to suffer a digital 9/11," said Diffie. Pearl Harbor was an attack by a known entity as opposed to an unknown threat from a mysterious source, as cyberattacks tend to be, he said. "I think we could suffer some astounding event," he added, noting that there was an electricity blackout in the 1990s and a severe telephone outage in the 1980s due to a bug.
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