Black Hat 2013: Industry Response to General Alexander’s Keynote

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The Black Hat 2013 keynote, presented by General Alexander, director of the NSA, was potentially the most highly-anticipated talks I’ve been to in my seven years in this industry. I’m not being overly-dramatic when I say you could literally feel the tension in the room as Black Hat’s delegates waited –most cynical and some hopeful – for the General to take to the stage.

The moment of silence for Barnaby Jack prior to the General’s keynote only added to the emotion in the room. Our coverage of the keynote and the content of General Alexander’s presentation can be found here. This blog will focus purely on the industry’s reactions to the keynote.

Let me preface this by saying that immediately after the keynote ended, I tweeted the following: “Very impressed with Genl. Alexander's keynote at #BlackHat - presented in a concise and powerful manner. Not so impressed with the heckling.”

In response, I received several extremely strongly-worded objections to my opinion. Sadly none were articulated in an intelligent or constructive manner – instead I was told “F**k you” and other equally charming retorts.

Wondering whether I was alone in my respect of the General’s keynote, and my sympathetic response to the grace in which he responded to the heckling, I decided to ask the opinion of every security professional I met during my time at Black Hat.

Every single person I asked had positive feedback about the General’s keynotes, and below I quote just a few of those professionals:

  • “The industry was understandably sceptical about the General’s address, he could have been very defensive. But, he responsibly laid out as much of the truth that he’s allowed to tell. I believe he’s telling the truth, and he handled the heckling brilliantly” – Andrew Lee, CEO North America, ESET
  • “I think General Alexander gained credibility and his decision to show up will have helped build the trust. It’s a good thing that we’re having an open debate – it honours the spirit of Black Hat.” – Stephen Cobb, security evangelist, ESET
  • “He got it right. He honoured people, it was an emptional response. I believed everything he said.” - Alex Watson, security researcher, Websense
  • “General Alexander’s conduct was incredibly clear and candid. I didn’t feel like he was holding back – but more that he was reaching out.”- Jeff Debrosse, security researcher, Websense
  • “He handled the heckling like a professional comedian. He presented everything he could. Respect to him.” – Anonymous
  • “I heard that eggs were confiscated from several delegates who intended to throw them at General Alexander. For Christ sake, have some respect!” – Anonymous

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