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RSA Europe 2013: Privacy concerns must not stall network surveillance, says chairman Coviello

On the opening morning of RSA Europe 2013, the security group’s executive chairman Art Coviello shrugged off surveillance concerns amid the ongoing NSA saga to warn that security must not get drawn into a battle with privacy if the industry is to beat cyber-attackers.

The message echoed Coviello’s keynote speech a year ago at RSA Europe 2012, when he said “cries of big brother” were stalling the implementation of technologies that carefully monitor adversaries, to the detriment of IT security.

12 months on, and with revelations of mass data-collection from the US National Security Agency in full swing, Coviello conceded that close network surveillance “does have the potential to be misused,” and that, “we don’t want to create big brother.”

But these concerns should not hamper the expansion of “intelligence-based” security systems that closely monitor user behaviour, he argued.

“Some of our customers are caught in an agonising and paralysing Catch 22; literally afraid to deploy technology that would protect theirs and their customers’ privacy for fear of violating workers’ privacy.

“Of course, that conundrum ignores the fact that the exact same technology can and would protect those workers’ privacy. This demonstrates the consequence of pitting security against privacy. We can’t let that happen."

Coviello said the tech industry is creating more avenues of attack for cyber-criminals than ever before, and that the increasing sophistication of their weaponry is putting organisations on the back foot. The key to reversing the tide, the RSA chief argued, was by meticulously analysing network activity to identify potential dangers before they unfold.

“With adversaries cutting apart our existing security defences left and right, the only way we can hope to protect the information that is most valuable to us is through understanding that anomalous behaviour of people, devices, and the flow and use of data. Anomalous is the key word here.”

For updates and images from the ground throughout this week’s RSA Europe, check out our live coverage page.