The exposure of the PRISM data-collection program might not fall squarely under the heading of the third annual International Cyber Security Conference, which concluded on Wednesday at Tel Aviv University. The secret data-collection program, by which U.S. intelligence agencies routinely vacuum up huge amounts of private communications from Internet users, stands outside the realm of safeguarding the cyberworld from attacks. PRISM is defended as an antiterrorism measure, necessary to detect plots as they are hatched between evildoers communicating with one another online.
But it turns out that, from the point of view of the watchers gathered in Tel Aviv, it’s all about expanding their gaze even further. The chairman of RSA, the digital-security company best known for its password key fobs, made the case for “full visibility into all data” as essential to detecting and thwarting threats to the cyberworld as well. Art Coviello, who is also executive vice president of EMC, which now owns RSA, said computer security is no longer about throwing up a fire wall between a piece of equipment and the outside world. Consumers now move between so many digital devices, and entrust information to the cloud, that the idea of “a perimeter” has been falling apart since 2007. Coviello gestured to zettabytes — four levels up from a gigabyte — to drive home his point that there’s just too much data moving out there to protect on site: understanding, he said, that 1 zetta is equal to 4.9 quadrillion books, the world traffic in data was a quarter of a zettabyte in 2007, but had become 2 zettabytes in 2013 and by 2020 might be 40, or even 60.