Data security goes lyrical, Chris Nolan, (c) 1998 SJ Mercury News (Jan 12) Bidzos' Rap Y'all on the net Y'll wild and free But y'all ain't got no privacy. So whatcha gonna do to protect yourself? Better use that damn cryptography! Yeah, I like to surf the Internet turf I find so much stuff I can't get enough! I like to hip hip hop I like to online shop I trust RSA to keep the hackers at bay They're sending us a message And it ain't subliminal The only way to protect you Is to treat you like a criminal! I want to encrypt My Internet mail And I should be allowed to do it Without going to jail! The latest entrant in Silicon Valley's rock star collection contest didn't settle for having marquee entertainment -- the Sugar Hill Gang -- appear. No, the beginning of the RSA Data Security Conference featured Code Greek Jim Bidzos, RSA's CEO, actually performing with one of New York's original rap bands. "I've always wanted to do that," Bidzos said at the end of his opening act. "And I promise never to do it again." The Gossip Columnist now utters a fervent prayer that this promise is kept. Experience, however, suggests otherwise. Bidzos said the rappers -- who are touring the area and will perform again tonight at RSA's Cryptographers' Gala -- charged "surprisingly little" to perform. But maybe that's because he supplied the group with his very own crypto-rap lyrics, a rhyming version of his usual RSA sales pitch that invoked privacy rights, denouced government export controls and included jokes about banking and sex. "I want to encrypt/my Internet mail/and I should be allowed to do it/without goin' to jail!" rapped the Code Greek and his new friends. Bidzos' enthusiasm aside, it is a long way from Sugar Hill to Nob Hill, almost as far as the distance between the first RSA conference in 1991 at the Hotel Sofitel -- attended by 60 academics, hackers, and businessmen -- and this year's business conference. This year's RSA conference -- held in San Francisco's Masonic Auditorium, a structure built by the *original* secret-handshake crowd -- attracted 3,000, almost none of them academics, a few of them spies and almost all of them looking for a business deal. In addition to the President's dinner, there were meals, drinks and billiards at the University Club, not to mention jeroboams (also known as BFBs) fo cabernets that Bidzos picked up at the Napa Valley wine auction. Helping people keep secrets is big business. The legitimization of cryptography -- the acknowledgment that it's not just an academic discipline -- is what Bidzos and his patent holders are celebrating. It's a party so big that next year it moves to the San Jose McEnery Convention Center. "The whole business philosophy was to wait until the Internet bloomed," said Ron Rivest, the "R" in RSA, which is also named for two other founders, cryptographers Len Adleman and Adi Shamir. "The company was in survival mode for a number of years." With the increasing use of the Internet, individuals, governments and corporations have become more interested in keeping private things private. And that's been good for RSA, which happens to own the rights, almost all the rights, to an easy-to-use encryption technology called public key encryption. "It's just the nature of cryptography," said Rivest. Yes, but RSA helped itself along. Ask anyone who's ever negotiated with Bidzos. "In business he has this tough-guy side," said one venture capitalist who declined -- years ago -- to invest in RSA. "I couldn't figure out how to make money selling public key encryption," he said. But the Code Greek always knew. Or, as in poker, he acted as if he did. "Bidzos, when he got the upper hand, was very tough to deal with," said the VC. The next two years will tell if he's agile. RSA's patents expire soon. "The question is how do they manage this transition when they come off patents," said the VC. "The drug companies get hammered."
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