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NSA Chief General Keith Alexander Addresses DEF CON Attendees

LAS VEGAS - DEF CON XX – General Keith Alexander, the man in charge of both the NSA and U.S. Cyber Command, delivered a talk Friday afternoon in Las Vegas that sounded like part recruitment pitch and part stump speech for cybersecurity legislation.

General Alexander started his keynote by offering kudos and talking up some of DEF CON’s achievements. Dressed in casual attire, the nation’s top intelligence official made history by being the highest ranked government official to speak at DEF CON in its 20-year history.

General Alexander Talks at DEF CONReferencing DEF CON as a whole, General Alexander called it the “world’s best cyber security community.”

Unfortunately, the General seemed to talk down to many of the highly intelligent people attending his talk, recapping the history of security contributions from the hacker community – such as SNORT, IDS and IPS innovations, NMAP, etc – and the government, including Enigma and DES.

He talked about the threats that organizations face online, offering what came off as a watered down version of his previous public talks, complete with mention of the significant vulnerabilities and a listing of recent security incidents. Again, most of those who came to see him speak were well aware of the security challenges that organizations of all shapes and sizes face, so it was unfortunate that the first part of his talk was spent in a type of recap and review.

“If I had a drink every time Gen. Alexander said ‘cyber’ I would already be drunk,” an attendee to his talk commented on Twitter.

To be fair, clearly General Alexander wasn’t attempting to talk down to the crowd, nor was he intending to overhype his situation. The aim of the talk was to build a bridge between the hacking community and the government. At one point he commented on several problems that the private and government sectors face, mentioning that if those in attendance to his talk were to focus on them for a week or so, those problems would likely be solved rather quickly.

As previously mentioned on SecurityWeek, General Alexander’s talk aimed to highlight the common goals that the hacker community shares with the government, including a drive to protect personal privacy and civil liberties. As such, the recruitment drive from the NSA came as no surprise.

The end of the talk included a brief Q&A, but there was nothing overly secretive reveled. General Alexander’s session wasn’t the best it could have been, but if anything he did appear to genuinely want help addressing the problems he has outlined many times before.

At the same time, he may have been talking to the wrong crowd. Most of those who are here at Def Con, and who are likely to help the General address those problems, are already doing what they can.

Related: US Needs Offensive Weapons in Cyberwar, Says General Alexander

Related: Hackers Shifting to 'Destruction': US Cyber Chief

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Steve Ragan is a security reporter and contributor for SecurityWeek. Prior to joining the journalism world in 2005, he spent 15 years as a freelance IT contractor focused on endpoint security and security training.