Google VP withdraws from Black Hat over 'harmful' name

David Kleidermacher announced that he would no longer be speaking at virtual Black Hat USA conference

A graphic displaying an ethical hacker

Cyber security conference organiser Black Hat is being urged to change its name after a Google’s VP withdrew from the upcoming Black Hat USA virtual conference. 

David Kleidermacher, who is VP of Android security and privacy at Google, announced would no longer be attending the event on Twitter on Friday, saying that “society needs to change - now - how it talks and acts, in support of racial justice and equity”.

‘Black hat’ is a computer security term which refers to a malicious actor who participates in cyber crime for personal gain.

Kleidermacher’s statement was met with backlash from numerous Twitter users who refuted the term’s racial connotations and argued that the term originated from classic Western movies, where lawful cowboys wore white hats while their ‘bad’ counterparts donned black.

The Google engineer reiterated that “the need for language change has nothing to do with the origins of the term black hat in infosec[urity]”. 

“Those who focus on that are missing the point. Black hat / white hat and blacklist / whitelist perpetuate harmful associations of black=bad, white=good,” he added. 

“Language change is not 'the answer', it’s but one (small) part of the fight against racial, ethnic, and other injustice and inequity that has a many important battlefields. The fact that we’re having this conversation, even with inevitable twitter trolling, is a win.”

Information security expert Brian Anderson agreed with Kleidermacher’s opinion, adding that Black Hat events lack minority representation.

“Black people have struggled for lifetimes with negative imagery associated with blackness. The studies are clear that children see goodness and beauty in whiteness, ugliness and bad in black. MY children have to deal with this just like our parents did before us. That is harm,” he tweeted.

Anderson added that the high cost of attending the Black Hat events is “prohibitive for a lot of minorities”. The price of admission for one person for the US event in August starts at $2295 (£1836).

IT Pro reached out to Black Hat to ask whether any other speakers had withdrawn their attendance following Kleidermacher’s decision, but the organisation has yet to response. The Black Hat US event is set to take place virtually on 1-6 August.

Last week, Twitter decided to drop the terms "master", "slave" and "blacklist" in favour of more inclusive language in its programming. The social media site is following in the steps of a number of tech firms that have already pledged to ditch the terms in light of the black lives matter protests.

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