Chapter 2 of Nicole Perlroth’s book This Is How They Tell Me The World Ends is all about S4x13 and particularly about a dinner I hosted that she called The F**king Salmon dinner.
We were all in Miami to attend the same bizarre conference – an annual invite-only gathering of the smartest fifty plus minds in industrial-control security
Back when S4 was small I could take most of the attendees out for a meal at some point in the week to make sure they had a bit of fun and got to know each other. The last night was usually a large dinner at the Cuban restaurant Yuca down in South Beach for anyone I had missed and particularly those who had been more isolated during the event. Community building has been and still is a major goal of S4.
I typically hosted a dinner the first night of S4 at Michelle Bernstein’s Michy restaurant, now closed and missed. It was the best restaurant close to the then Sunny Isles S4 venue. This was one of my favorite parts of the event because I could invite an eclectic and interesting mix, and the food and atmosphere was great.
2013 was the first time S4 was getting serious reporter interest, so I invited Nicole from the New York Times and the original reporter covering S4, Kelly Jackson Higgins of Dark Reading. They joined my wife and I, Ralph Langner (my longtime friend and recently famous due to Stuxnet), Luigi Auriemma, and Donato Ferrente and his fiancé.
Luigi and Donato had started a company named ReVuln that sold 0day exploits. They had been looking at a variety of ICS software and not surprisingly found numerous vulnerabilities. They released the details of some of these vulnerabilities, and many in the ICS security industry found this public, non-coordinated release shocking. Luigi and Donato had graciously traveled from Italy to attend and speak at S4, which of course added some sizzle to the event.
It is obvious in hindsight, and was immediately evident at the table, that Ralph and Luigi were not going to get along. Ralph has always advised me to keep anything that glorified hacking or hackers out of the event. His substantial focus is always on the best way to improve the robustness of control systems. While I take much of his advice, S4 did move to South Beach, on this I didn’t and don’t. I want all different points of view and ideas to be presented to the S4 attendee. Even at recent S4 events I have speakers I think are just dead wrong on stage if they are the best advocate for their position.
I didn’t invite this mix to dinner to stir up trouble. I wanted the reporters to meet some of the luminaries in the space, to catch up with Ralph, and get to know Luigi as this was my first meeting with him. There really weren’t any fireworks, just not a meeting of the minds or serious conversation about security between the pair.
I don’t remember the exact words of the key passage Nicole writes in Chapter 2, but I do remember Nicole making several runs at Luigi to get him to reveal his buyers and Luigi’s answer:
I could answer your question, but I would rather talk about my salmon.
and then Ralph responding similar to the quote in the book about Luigi and Donato being young and not knowing or caring about the impact of their work.
I have told the story of this dinner many times over the years when people asked about Luigi, but my story starts after this exchange and is very different than Nicole’s. After a bit of back and forth between Nicole and Ralph, with no comment from Luigi, and some awkward silence, I really wanted to hear what Luigi thought about the salmon. There was a sense of sincerity in his comment and an intensity in his eating of it. So I asked him.
Luigi gave a detailed description of his thinking about the way the way the skin was cooked with just the right amount of crispness, and how they managed to cook the fish evenly throughout even though it was a thickish piece, and the texture, and the flavor, etc. I will never know if he was ducking Nicole’s question, but I’d like to believe he found the salmon more interesting than talking about security at that moment.
Then Donato chimed in that when you eat pizza with Luigi in Milan, he won’t talk while he is eating his pizza. That his sole focus will be on the pizza. It’s a very quiet meal. And that the pizza is always a margarita pizza because this is how you can tell the true quality of the pizza without the extraneous toppings.
Regrettably I’ve only met Luigi one other time when he came to S4x14 to teach a class. He has moved from Milan to Malta so I’ve missed him on my trips to Italy. I still have hopes of seeing him again and not talking security, but going to one of his favorite pizza places and having a quiet margarita pizza with him.