Reflections on the 2023 RSA Conference


I have attended 14 of the last 22 RSA conferences. (I missed the last three because of COVID avoidance; many people I know who went became infected and contributed to making them superspreader events. I saw extremely few masks this year, so I will not be surprised to hear of another surge. I spent all my time on the floor and in crowds with a mask -- I hope that was sufficient.)

I have blogged here about previous iterations of the conference (2007, 2014, 2016, and most recently, 2019). Reading back over those accounts makes me realize that little has really changed. Some of the emphasis has changed, but most of what is exhibited and presented is not novel nor does it address root causes of our problems.

Each year, I treasure meeting with old friends and making some worthwhile new acquaintances with people who actually have a clue (or two). Sadly, the number of people I stop to chat with who don't have the vaguest idea about the fundamentals of the field or its history continue to constitute the majority. How can the field really progress if the technical people don't really have a clue what is actually known about security (as opposed to known about the products in their market segment)?

I was relieved to not see hype about blockchain (ugh!) or threat intelligence. Those were fads a few years ago. Apparently, hype around quantum and LLMs has not yet begun to build in this community. Zero trust and SBOM were also understated themes, thankfully. I did see more hardware-based security, some on OT, and a little more on user privacy. All were under-represented.

My comments on the 2019 RSAC could be used almost word-for-word here. Rather than do that, I strongly suggest you revisit those comments now.

Why did I go if I think it was so uninspiring? As usual, it was for people. Also, this year, I was on a panel for our recent book, Cybersecurity Myths and Misconceptions.. Obviously, I have a bias here, but I think the book addresses a lot of the problems I am noting with the conference. We had a good turnout at the panel session, which was good, but almost no one showed up at the book signings. I hope that isn't a sign that the book is being ignored, but considering it isn't hyping disaster or a particular set of products, perhaps that is what is happening. Thankfully, some of the more senior and knowledgable people in the field did come by for copies or to chat, so there is at least that. (I suggest that after you reread my 2019 comments, you get a copy of the book and think about addressing some of the real problems in the field.)

Will I go to the 2024 RSAC Conference? It depends on my health and whether I can find funds to cover the costs: It is expensive to attend, and academics don't have expense accounts. If I don't go, I will surely miss seeing some of the people who I've gotten to know and respect over the years. However, judging by how many made an effort to find me and how the industry seems to be going, I doubt will be missed if I am not there. That by itself may be enough reason to plan an alternate vacation


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