Themes

Since 1995, a unique theme has been chosen every year and predicated on a specific contribution or illustration related to information security. A story and design are developed and carried throughout the event. Marketing materials, signage and web sites are all developed to maximize use of this theme approach and design.

2014:  Share. Learn. Secure.

Share.Learn.SecureFew, if any, transformational discoveries occur in a vacuum. They are curious amalgams—the result of dozens of observations, hundreds of perspectives, and thousands of ideas. But, it only takes one—one person, group, or company to make the connection and seize the opportunity to innovate. RSA® Conference 2014 provides IT professionals and business leaders the opportunity to make connections, to capitalize on the ideas, insights, and relationships that may shape the future of information security.

2013: Security in knowledge


Security in KnowledgeThe Gutenberg Printing Press. Data by itself is nothing but a collection of facts and figures, letters and numbers. However, when ignited by understanding and context, data can become so much more. In 1440, Johannes Gutenberg, a goldsmith by profession, completed his invention of the printing press, which sparked a revolution in the way people see and describe the world they live in. This collection of wooden and metal letters, regarded as one of the most influential inventions of the second millennium, led to the mass distribution of information and a wave of enlightenment that modernized and transformed culture. Today, we live in a digital age where the printed page is becoming obsolete. But we find ourselves amidst our own information revolution. Data has grown big and gets bigger with every digital transaction we make. It also is more accessible than ever, which leads to the questions, “how do we use, secure and share the information that surrounds us?” As we stand in the midst of the change we look back to the time of Gutenberg to find inspiration for the future of security. Knowledge has always been power. Knowledge has always kept us one step ahead of security threats. We’ve found security in knowledge. And just as Gutenberg’s wooden and metal letters sparked the evolution of culture, at RSA Conference 2013, we bring our security insights and perspectives together to ignite the mass of information that surrounds us.

2012: The Great Cipher Mightier Than The Sword


The Great Cipher Mightier Than The SwordIn 17th century France, a religious war raged between the ruling Roman Catholic French and the French Protestants, known as the Huguenots. After intercepting an encrypted letter from the Huguenots to their allies, the Catholics turned to mathematician Antoine Rossignol for help deciphering the message. The information in that letter led to the Catholics’ defeat of the Huguenots and earned Rossignol, along with his son, Bonaventure, the positions of chief cryptographers for the French Court. Under Louis XIV, the Rossignols developed the Great Cipher and ran the Cabinet noir (Black Chamber). Upon their deaths the Great Cipher’s key was lost and it remained indecipherable for two centuries.

Read more about the Great Cipher

2011: The Adventures of Alice & Bob


The Adventures of Alice & BobRon Rivest used fictitious placeholder names to explain the RSA encryption method and the many steps involved in the complex system. Alice & Bob were born to make the subject matter easier to grasp – replacing Person A and Person B. Bruce Schneier, author of Applied Cryptography and another forefather of information security, introduced a host of other characters to make technical topics more understandable. This cast of friends and enemies – including Eve the Eavesdropper, Mallory the Malicious Attacker and Walter the Warden, among others – populate Alice & Bob's universe and evolved into common parlance in cryptography and computer security.

Read more about Alice and Bob

2010: The Rosetta Stone

The Rosetta StoneMysterious hieroglyphs line ancient Egyptian tomb walls, leading the Pharaohs to the afterlife. For thousands of years, their meaning remained shrouded in secrecy, the ability to decode the complex writing lost to time. In 1799, the chance discovery of a large, badly damaged stele – known as the Rosetta Stone – along the Nile delta changed everything. For more than two decades, the greatest minds in the scientific and intellectual communities compared the 14 lines Hieroglyphic, 32 lines Demotic, and 54 lines ancient Greek on the stone, sharing insights and building on each other’s work. The big breakthrough came in 1822 with the realization that each hieroglyph could represent a sound or concept, depending on context. The Rosetta Stone’s message was no longer veiled by obscurity–the ancients’ marks could be deciphered and the doors opened to modern Egyptology.

Read the text of the Rosetta Stone

2009: Edgar Allen Poe

Edgar Allen PoePoe was fascinated by cryptography, which he often treated in his journalism and fiction. He concealed anagrams and hidden messages in his own poems. His famous story - The Gold Bug - centers on the solution of a cipher, which turns out to be a map to hidden private treasure. In 1839 Poe conducted his own cryptographic challenge. Writing in Alexander's Weekly Messenger, Poe challenged his readers to submit their cryptographs to him, asserting that he would solve them all. A year later Poe wrote an article for Graham's Magazine titled "A Few Words on Secret Writing". In it, he offered to give a free subscription to the magazine to anyone who would send him a cipher he could not crack. Poe ended the contest six months later, claiming to have solved all of the 100 ciphers sent to him. He concluded by publishing two ciphers ostensibly sent in by Mr. W. B. Tyler, praising their author as a "gentleman whose abilities we highly respect" and challenging readers to solve them. There the ciphers remained until 1985 when Professor Louis Renza of Dartmouth College suggested that Tyler was actually a double for Poe himself. Renza's theory was later elaborated by Shawn Rosenheim in his book The Cryptographic Imagination: Secret Writing from Edgar Allan Poe to the Internet. In it, Rosenheim points to the likelihood that the ciphers were placed in the magazine by Poe himself as a final challenge to his readers.

2008: Alan Mathison Turing

Alan Mathison TuringAlan Mathison Turing (1912-1954) was a British cryptographer, mathematician, logician, philosopher and biologist. Experts and historians agree that Alan Turing had a deeper understanding of the vast potential of computer science than anyone in his era, and is often considered the father of modern computer science. During World War II, Turing was part of the team of scientists working at Britain's Bletchley Park Government and Cipher School and responsible for building the Bombe, a complex electromechanical machine designed to decipher secret codes and transmissions. The Bombewas the starting point for Turing to develop more advanced computer prototypes throughout his career. His most recognized invention, the Universal Machine(or Turing Machine), was a flashpoint in the evolution of computers because it read a series of "ones and zeroes" from a paper tape, then triggered the steps required to perform automated tasks. His work inspired the ACM A.M. Turing Award, which is widely considered to be the computing world's equivalent to the Nobel Prize. Turing also explored the relationship between machines and living organisms, opening the door to Artificial Intelligence.

Read Turing's 1950 paper "Computing Machinery and Intelligence."

2007: Leon Batista Alberti

Leon Batista AlbertiLeon Battista Alberti was an illustrious mind of the Renaissance period whose scientific and cultural influence surpassed his brief life span. A painter, poet, philosopher, musician, architect and "Father of Western Cryptology", Alberti invented the first published polyalphabetic cipher in 1466. His cipher disk contained two alphabets, one on a fixed outer ring, and the other on a rotating disk, and is the cipher design to which most of today's systems of cryptography belong: polyalphabetic substitution. Alberti's polyalphabetic cipher was, at least in principle, the most significant advance in cryptography since Julius Caesar's time and marked a great stride forward in cryptology.

Read more on the Alberti Cipher

2006: Modern Codes in Ancient Sutras

Modern Codes in Ancient SutrasIn 499 CE, in Kusumpura, capital of the Gupta Empire in classical India, a young mathematician named Aryabhatta published an astronomical treatise written in 118 Sanskrit verses. A student of the Vedic mathematics tradition that had slowly emerged in India between 1500 and 900 BC, Aryabhatta, only 23, intended merely to give a summary of Vedic mathematics up to his time. But his slender volume, the Aaryabhat.iiya, was to become one of the most brilliant achievements in the history of mathematics, with far-ranging implications in the East and West. Aryabhatta correctly determined the axial rotation of the earth. He inferred that planetary orbits were elliptical, and provided a valid explanation of solar and lunar eclipses. His theory of the relativity of motion predated Einstein's by 1400 years. And his studies in algebra and trigonometry, which laid the foundations for calculus, influenced European mathematicians 1,000 years later, when his texts were translated into European languages from the 8th century Arabic translations of the Sanskrit originals.

More on Aryabhatta

2005: Codes of Prohibition: Rumrunners and Elizabeth Friedman

Codes of Prohibition: Rumrunners and Elizabeth FriedmanBy the late 1920s, Prohibition-era America's thirst for illegal booze had turned small-time Chicago hoodlum Al Capone into a criminal czar. Fighting these precursors of the Mafia and Cosa Nostra involved the labors of many federal agencies including a team of federal cryptanalysts, led by Elizabeth Smith Friedman. Friedman applied sensitive analytic tests that developed traces of plaintext. Her skills became indispensable to the Coast Guard when syndicates smuggling in spirits from the Pacific and Atlantic began to rely on offshore fleets controlled by radio transmitters. Friedman and her team deciphered messages seized in a 1931 raid on Consolidated Exporters Incorporated in New Orleans. The plaintext versions of these messages led a grand jury to indict 35 rumrunners, including the ringleader, on federal conspiracy charges. Six bosses and smugglers were convicted and sentenced to prison terms. The culture of mobsters and speakeasies was dealt a serious blow.

Read the NSA history

2004: Chinese Remainder Theorem

Chinese Remainder TheoremDuring the 13th century, a patriotic poet, musician, archer, and student of calendrical computation and mathematics named Ch'in Chiu-Shao joined the military to defend his homeland. Like many of his countrymen, he endured years of hardship on the frontier, guarding China from Genghis Khan and invading Mongols. He often escaped the misery of warfare by amusing himself with numbers. In particular, he pondered the Remainder Theorem developed in the late third century by the scholar Sun Zi. Ch'in realized that the Remainder Theorem could be used not only to count large numbers, but to conceal them as well. Thanks to Ch'in's labors and others after him, the Chinese Remainder Theorem has become a cornerstone of modern public key cryptography.

Explore the Chinese Remainder Theorem

2003: The Secrets of the Maya

The Secrets of the MayaOriginating in the Yucatan around 2600 B.C., the Maya rose to prominence around A.D. 250 in what is now present-day southern Mexico, Guatemala, western Honduras, El Salvador, and northern Belize. Of the many pre-Columbian civilizations in the western hemisphere, the Maya civilization alone developed a writing system that provided a complete expression of their language. Thus they are the only indigenous people of the Americas with a written history. Mayan hieroglyphs were a full writing system, meaning that it was, above all, phonetic. Scribes constantly had to choose among the large repertoire of signs (some 800 in all) when composing their texts. While only four of their folding bark books survived the fanatical purges of the Spanish priests -- who regarded the symbolic writing as the work of the devil -- their writing in stucco, stone and pottery remain. At present, only 60-70% of the Maya inscriptions can be read with a reasonable degree of accuracy. This has happened principally as the result of an ever-increasing refinement in our understanding of the ornate Maya script, as well as better accuracy in the reconstruction of the Mayan language of the inscriptions from its modern descendants.

Read more about the Mayan script

2002: Mary, Queen of Scots

Mary, Queen of ScotsIn 1586, Mary Queen of Scots was on trial for treason, accused of plotting to assassinate her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I, to claim the English crown for herself. Catholic factions had schemed more than once to seat Mary on the throne of England and restore the realm to the Church. Mary carefully ensured that all her correspondence with the conspirators had been written in a secret cipher that transformed her words into meaningless symbols. Unfortunately for Mary, Elizabeth's spies succeeded in deducing the secret code by reading numerous coded messages, guessing their contents, and systematically testing the guesses by trying to decode other messages. Although Elizabeth's agents didn't break Mary's entire code, they gleaned enough to identify and arrest the plotters, and condemn Mary to death.

See Mary's cipher sent to Anthony Babington, a co-conspirator

2001: Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI)

Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI)Pioneer 10 was the first spacecraft to leave the solar system, and is currently the most remote object made by man, over seven billion miles from Earth. Heading towards the constellation Taurus, it will take Pioneer two million years to cross the gulf between the starts. The craft bears a greeting card from humanity with a return address: a map showing the position of our solar system relative to 14 prominent pulsars and the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. How could we possibly decipher a message from beings whose very modes of consciousness might be completely unlike our own? Ever since Frank Drake first aimed his 85-foot radio telescope at Tau Ceti on April 8, 1960, the science of cryptology has played an important role in the formulation of strategies for interpreting such a message.

Read NASA's mission profile of Pioneer 10

2000: Ancient Greece/Fall of Troy

Ancient Greece/Fall of Troy" . . . as soon as news reached him at Susa that Xerxes had decided upon the invasion of Greece, he felt that he must pass on the information to Sparta. As the danger of discovery was great, there was only one way in which he could contrive to get the message through -- this was by scraping the wax off a pair of wooden folding tablets, writing on the wood underneath what Xerxes intended to do, and then covering the message over with wax again. In this way the tablets, being apparently blank, would cause no trouble with the guards along the road. When the message reached its destination, no one was able to guess the secret until, as I understand, Cleomenes' daughter Gorgo (who was the wife of Leonidas) discovered it and told the others . . . This was done, the message was revealed and read, and afterwards passed on to the other Greeks . . ."

The Histories of Herodotus

Read more from the Histories of Herodotus

1999: Norse/Viking Runestones

Norse/Viking RunestonesIn the ninth century, Scandinavians developed two 16-rune "futharks", or alphabets, whose ease of use and wide acceptance caused a surge in literacy in the ancient Viking world. It is during this age of innovation that the Rok Stone (Rokstenen) of Ostergotland, Sweden, was created. Its inceptions are in verse form, in the potent language of sorcery, highly-wrought and sometimes archaically obscure, dramatically portraying the magico-mythical characters of Viking sagas. More interesting to cryptographers is the fact that much of the writing is encrypted - and in several different ciphers. Among the records that survive, it is apparent that Vikings were much more likely to encrypt religious or memorial texts rather than military ones. Academics still argue over why.

View the Viking Futhark

1998: 16th Century monk, Trithemius and his book Polygraphia

16th Century monk, Trithemius and his book PolygraphiaIn 1518, a Benedictine monk named Johannes Trithemius wrote Polygraphiae, the first published treatise on cryptography. Later, his text Steganophraphia described a cipher in which each letter is represented by words in successive columns of text, designed to hide inconspicuously inside a seemingly pious book of prayer. Polygraphiae and Steganophraphia attracted a considerable amount of attention not only for their meticulous analysis of ciphers but more notably for the unexpected thesis of Steganographia's third and final section, which claimed that messages communicated secretly were aided in their transmission by a host of summoned spirits. As might be expected, Trithemius's works were widely denounced as having magical content (a familiar theme in cryptographic history) and a century later fell victim to the zealous flames of the Inquisition when they were banned as heretical sorcery.

Explore the Latin version of Steganographia (Secret Writing), by Johannes Trithemius

1997: Cher Ami, Carrier Pigeon

Cher Ami, Carrier PigeonDuring World War I, the Army Signal Corps used 600 pigeons to pass messages over difficult terrain where wire communications were impossible. During the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in Verdun that ultimately ended the war, hundreds of messages were sent via these pigeons. One of the most famous was Cher Ami who served on the front lines in 1918, flying twelve missions. The most important and last mission of Cheri Ami was on October 4, 1918 when Major Whittlesey and more than 200 of his remaining men were trapped by enemy soldiers. The American Artillery did not know their exact position and was actually engaged in friendly fire. Cher Ami, the only pigeon left, carried a note indicating where they were located and a request to stop the artillery barrage. The Germans opened fire on the pigeon but he managed to fly the 25 miles in 25 minutes. When Cher Ami reached his destination he had been blinded in one eye, and a bullet had almost severed the leg carrying his message. The medics saved his life but could not save his leg. Cheri Ami was given a French medal of honor and even received a wooden leg from his American division.

See Cher Ami at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History

1996: WWII Navaho Codetalkers

WWII Navaho CodetalkersThe Navaho language is so difficult to learn and its linguistics are so complex that it is virtually impossible for a non-native speaker to counterfeit its sounds. Furthermore, Navaho seems to have no linguistic connections to any other Asian or European language. Consequently, at any given time, there are only a few thousand people capable of speaking the language. For these reasons, the U.S. military made extensive use of hundreds of Native American "codetalkers" during World War II, relaying operational orders in the Pacific theatre with a level of security that was unattainable by current encryption algorithms. The signal corps' liberal mix-in of Navaho and military slang resulted in a communications network so secure that it was never compromised by the Axis powers.

Read the Navajo Code Talkers' Dictionary

Egyptian Scarab Seals1995: Egyptian Scarab Seals

Eternal Life was the fascination of the Egyptians, as evidenced by the fantastic pyramids and elaborate tombs they left as legacies of their great society. Because they saw the scarab, or beetle, only in its adult form, they worshipped it as immortal, a symbol of eternity. Their seals were scarab shaped and impressions "signed" the clay and papyrus business documents of 4000 years ago. Consequently, the scarab seal had a powerful symbolic, as well as legal, significance as to the permanence of a contract.

See examples of Egyptian scarabs

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