Snowden fallout still echoes across cyber industry

WASHINGTON Sat May 17, 2014 5:13am IST

Former National Security Agency (NSA) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Michael Hayden listens during a Reuters CyberSecurity Summit in Washington, May 12, 2014. REUTERS/Larry Downing

Former National Security Agency (NSA) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Michael Hayden listens during a Reuters CyberSecurity Summit in Washington, May 12, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden changed lives in the cyber community, from slowdowns in obtaining high-level security clearances to providing material for a "really good comedy routine." 

Experts at the Reuters Cybersecurity Summit this week were asked how Snowden, now living under asylum in Russia after exposing the National Security Agency's phone and Internet spying programs in 2013, altered their worlds.

The creation of a mini "Snowden industry" is one on them.

"I give a lot more speeches," said Michael Hayden, the former NSA and CIA director. "It has allowed someone of my background to comment on issues of national importance."

The website of Leading Authorities, the speakers' bureau that represents Hayden, shows the retired four-star general can command $20,000 to as much as $75,000 for a speech.

"It's made my life busier," deadpanned Robert Anderson, who steered the Snowden investigation as the FBI's assistant director of counterintelligence. "What it has done for me is to very much broaden the way I look at an issue."

Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist with the American Civil Liberties Union, lauded the spotlight that Snowden's disclosures shone.

"It's great to have the issues that I care about on the front page of the newspaper. But I think it's sad that it took a whistleblower ... Democracy shouldn't depend upon a 29-year-old risking his life," Soghoian said.

The ACLU has helped to coordinate Snowden's legal defense against espionage charges.

A hero to some, Snowden last month was among Time magazine's "100 most influential people" and in January was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by two Norwegian politicians, who cited "a more stable and peaceful world order" in his wake.

That does not impress Admiral Mike Rogers, NSA director, who in April inherited an agency still feeling the chill from Snowden's leaks about its secret operations.

"Mr. Snowden stole from the United States government and national security a large amount of very classified information, a small portion of which is germane to his apparent central argument regarding NSA and privacy issues," Rogers said.

Threats from inside an organization were on the mind of Stuart McClure, chief executive officer of cybersecurity firm Cylance Inc. He said the emergence of a Snowden-like character "wasn't much of a shock or surprise," although potentially good for business at the California cybersecurity firm.

An insider is "the most dangerous actor you can think of. There is a lot more awareness and cognizance now of the idea that it could happen quite easily," McClure said.

Leonard Moodispaw, CEO of KEYW Corp, another cybersecurity firm, said he had run across Snowden years before the bespectacled whistleblower became a household name.

"We turned Snowden down for a job. He wasn't qualified," Moodispaw said. "He wanted to go overseas to be a systems analysis man. And he wanted a lot of money."

Snowden's biggest impact now is on obtaining security clearances, Moodispaw said, after the leaker's access to classified material exposed flaws in background checks. What used to take six months can now take almost a year, he said.

Eddie Schwartz, the head of Verizon Communications Inc's security and cyber intelligence practice, said the upside of Snowden's revelations were starting "good, interesting dialogue" on the topic of privacy.

Beyond that, Schwartz said the episode gave him "a really good comedy routine for the RSA Conference," an annual security gathering in San Francisco. "I used that (the Snowden affair) as my main topic, and I won." He declined to share any of his prize-winning material with Reuters.

(Reporting by Ros Krasny; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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