The RSA 2013 Conference has come and gone, and security news has dominated the last couple of weeks – Sepaton adds encryption to purpose-built backup appliance; EMC redesigns Data Protection Advisor; SpiderOak releases open-source zero-knowledge application framework – but next week a smaller, more intimate but also significant security event will be held just down the road at Stanford University. The 7th Annual SINET (Security Innovation Network) IT Security Entrepreneurs’ Forum (ITSEF), which is intended to advance cybersecurity innovation through public-private collaboration, will run from March 19-20.
Supported by the Department of Homeland Security, Science & Technology Directorate, the ITSEF program will feature thought leaders from the Federal Government, cybersecurity industry, academia, and the venture capitalist community, said Robert Rodriguez, Chairman and Founder of SINET. Towards the end of his more than 22 years as a Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service, he spearheaded the development of the Secret Service’s first public-private cyber security initiative in Northern California.
In this role Rodriguez served as a catalyst for the Department of Homeland Security’s effort to establish partnerships with key government, public, private, and international stakeholders in order to mitigate risk to the U.S.’s critical infrastructures. Since 2005, he has been coordinating the public-private sector outreach for the DHS S&T and SRI International Cyber Security Research and Development Center as well as Stanford University’s Computer Science Department, where he is also an adviser.
SINET’s mission is to advance innovation and enable global collaboration between the public and private sectors to defeat cyber security threats. It connects builders, buyers, researchers, and investors in the cyber security sector. The organization helps small and large companies through its strategic advisory services, community-building activities, and networking events.
ITSEF is the only cybersecurity forum designed to build communities of interest and trust between the Federal Government, system integration, private industry, innovation, venture capital, investment bank, academic, science, policy and entrepreneurial entities, said Rodriguez. “It provides an environment where buyers, builders, researchers and investors are here for a common goal – to advance innovation and a desire to help one another.” He points to the Manhattan Project, the development of the atomic bomb during World War II as a great example of value of the public and private sectors collaborating.
Rodriguez retired from the Secret Service 8 years ago to become a “connector” focused on connecting early-stage cybersecurity companies to VCs, banks, policy makers, lawmakers, academia, and buyers. He believes the defense industry is missing between 50-70% of early stage vendors, so SINET builds programs designed to narrow that gap.
His first forum, while still with the Secret Service, started with two people and was designed to build trust between the disparate groups. “It is really predicated on one word, trust. We focused on sharing information and collaborating with private industry. Fast forward 12 years and we’re using the same formula,” because it’s important to our economic and national security interests, he said.
Being in the private sector means Rodriguez can move a little faster, without the bureaucracy, although he remains grateful for the opportunity he had to start down this path. “I fell in love with the entrepreneurial spirit of Silicon Valley. I saw an opportunity to make a difference with the collaboration model I learned in the Secret Service; trusted relationships are key to the success of any model”
The security environment has changed a lot over this period, he said. “I watched the transition from the bad guys playing ‘capture the flag’ 12 years ago to the ‘hell with that, I want to make money’!” Nation states, terrorist groups, criminals, it’s all changed drastically over the last two years, said Rodriguez. “Our nation’s top intelligence leaders recently stated on Capital Hill that cyber espionage or a crippling cyber terrorism attack against the US has supplanted terrorism as the biggest threat.” He said there are 55-plus bills on the hill that have the word cybersecurity in them.
This is an opportunity, more than a problem, said Rodriguez. “We’ve got to move from me to we, us against them, the adversary, a collective effort.” The Internet moves at warp speed, has no zip code, and we have to act accordingly, he said.
That’s what true leadership is about, driving change, Rodriguez said. “A lot of people talk about the problem. We’re here at SINET to talk about the opportunities, the solutions and the deliverables. We’re here to make a difference in society and we’ve done so.”
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