Apple’s Black Hat Talk Draws Crowd, But Breaks Little Ground

Photographer by Jacob Kepler/Bloomberg

Attendees arrive during the Black Hat conference at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas on Wednesday.

(This post was updated to clarify Microsoft’s involvement with Black Hat in the last graph.)

A few minutes into Apple’s much-anticipated presentation at the Black Hat hacking conference in Las Vegas, it became clear that the secretive company intended on following a familiar script — literally.

Thursday’s appearance marked the first time that an Apple manager appeared on stage in the event’s 15-year history, in a nod to the growing attacks on Apple devices. It was also an opportunity for the company to pitch its products to businesses, many of which paid $1,500 or more to have their information security managers in attendance.

Dallas De Atley, who manages Apple’s platform security team, drew a crowd of more than 500 for his hour-long talk on the security technologies the company has built into iOS, the operating system for iPhones and iPads.

Yet for all of the symbolic significance of having the world’s most valuable company engaging with hackers bent on finding flaws in its products, there wound up being little new information from the presentation.

That’s because De Atley’s talk covered the same ground as a white paper that Apple quietly released on its website in May. And the white paper contained some information that was already known in hacking circles. Some of the topics included Apple’s handling of encryption and how the integration of hardware and software helps detect malicious software on the devices. De Atley didn’t take questions from the audience and left immediately after.

Black Hat is one of the hacking community’s premier forums for researchers to present their findings and for companies whose products are targets to outline the steps they’re taking to improve security. By re-hashing known issues, Apple may have missed a chance to engage on a deeper level with researchers about its efforts to protect users’ data. Yet for a company that has been loath to even acknowledge that its products could have security issues, De Atley’s appearance is a reminder that getting big companies and hackers together is sometimes a process that moves ahead in small steps.

Apple’s nemesis, Microsoft, was at one time leery of hackers as well. Microsoft has now been involved with Black Hat for about a decade, and tonight plans to announce the winner of one of the richest rewards in computer-security research: the $200,000 BlueHat Prize. That’s given to the person who develops the best security technology for preventing a certain type of powerful attack against Windows applications.

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