Since then the conference has taken on important security issues, such as the battle against the Clipper Chip that would have give the U.S. government encryption keys to decrypt communications secured by the chips. Its prominence prompted the Cloud Security Alliance to launch at the conference in 2009.
As the conference grew, so did its scope, says Sandra LaPedis, general manager of the conference, with the 2005 keynote by Microsoft's Bill Gates being a turning point at which RSA became an all-encompassing security forum. "It was a big acknowledgment for Microsoft to send its top executive here," she says. The conference has drawn Cisco's CEO John Chambers, U.S. department of Homeland Security secretaries Michael Chertoff and Janet Napolitano and this year features former President Bill Clinton.
Even with this broad spectrum of issues, the conference retains its roots, with some of the original attendees coming back for a popular recurring event that hails back to the conference's roots - the cryptographer's panel - where they tend to mix it up pretty candidly.
In 2010, for example, the former technical director for the National Security Agency declared he doesn't trust cloud services because it's hard for a resource stored there to be safe from attacks from within. "You don't know what else is cuddling up next to it," said Brian Snow.
But he got whacked by Adi Shamir (the "S" in RSA) who agreed cloud services aren't safe, but because the NSA itself might tap them. "There's a pipe out of the back of an office at AT&T in San Francisco to NSA," he said, referring to a notorious splitter siphoning off copies of Internet traffic for the NSA. The implication was that technology could handle the risk Snow talked about, but the NSA was a different beast.
At the 2004 show, Rivest sat on the panel and rejected digital technology being used in elections because digital voting machines are so complex they necessarily offer multiple attack vectors. He called for paper ballots instead or at least as a backup to the electronic tally.
Not everything at RSA is serious, and even the corporate suits get in on the fun. In 1998, Bidzos donned gangster-rap attire and sunglasses to accompany The Sugarhill Gang lampooning government efforts to place back doors in encryption gear sold overseas. "Do encryption without going to jail," Bidzos intoned.
In 2001, the conference hired rocker Pat Benatar, who parodied her own hit song, "Heartbreaker," including the lyrics, "You're a Codebreaker/Crash Maker, File Taker/Don't you mess around with me."