Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Monday 1/03/2004Here's a handy household hint for those very important people who run very important computer security companies and go to very important conferences to do very important deals: technology may not always be your friend. Today's mystery informant is most definitely the Diary's friend, however.

Monday 1/03/2004
Here's a handy household hint for those very important people who run very important computer security companies and go to very important conferences to do very important deals: technology may not always be your friend.

Today's mystery informant is most definitely the Diary's friend, however. They also attend very important security conferences -- most notably, the RSA Conference in San Francisco last week -- and, like the assembled CIOs, CHIEF EXECUTIVEs, CTOs and other C--men, stay in businesslike hotels close to the convention centre.

There's not much to choose between these hotels most of the time. They have adequate restaurants, passable bars, acceptable room service and the usual in-room telly, mini-bar, radio and phones. It's only on small points that the various chains and independents differentiate themselves: take the Argent, for example. It boasts -- and for once the word is apt -- that it has three phones in each room, one of which is cordless.

Such telephonic largess is enough to tempt many high-fliers of the computing security world, reports our contact from an adjacent hotel. "Really," I ask. "How can you tell?"

"I brought my amateur radio gear with me," said matey, "partially for the BBC World Service but mostly just to have a listen around. Those little phones in the Argent sure have a long range."

Surely, I said, they're digital. Encrypted?

"Nope," said the portable GCHQ. "Just channel after channel of people doing deals, talking to their girlfriends, phone banking, gossiping about other companies, having conference calls with the board, all as clear as a bell and broadcast to the world. You can buy a radio down the road for $100 that picks them up."

"These would be the people who spend all their time telling us to trust them, they've got this technological security thing down pat?"

"Oh yes," said Big Ears. "It was dead funny when I saw them at the conference later."

I then proceeded to educate Snoopy on how many laws they had broken, how unethical the whole thing was, how privacy must be respected and so on -- and I'm sure it struck home. Reprehensible business.

But, er, all you VIP IT security types? Use the phone with the cable coming out the back next time. You never know who's listening.