Taking inspiration from the words of Helen Keller, "Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much," the theme for RSA Conference 2023 is "Stronger Together."
Cybersecurity can often devolve into malicious hackers vs. ethical hackers, or us vs. them. With the explosive emergence of generative AI sparking a "rise of the machines" feel to every announcement, cybersecurity now has the potential to devolve into humans vs. machines. An apt and cogent theme, "Stronger Together" is much more than just strength in numbers or strength in humans. It's about creating, combining and using people, tools, machines, automation -- anything and everything -- to achieve the best possible outcomes with maximum efficiency.
That's reflected in the huge RSA Conference (RSAC) community with more than 625 vendors and 700 speakers. I expect that last year's 26,000 attendees will be dwarfed by the size of the community coming together this year in San Francisco at the Moscone Center and the surrounding hotels, restaurants and bars -- all to strengthen the community.
Attending RSAC is cybersecurity's equivalent of finding a golden ticket to Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. With so many opportunities and so little time, however, we have to be judicious in where we spend our attention budget.
So, here are my top five picks for RSA Conference 2023.
RSAC 2023 features more than 30 keynote speeches from industry and pop culture luminaries alike. Top of the list for me is "The Looming Identity Crisis," featuring Rohit Ghai, CEO of RSA Security. I've been saying for years that identity lies in the domain of cybersecurity, while the identity industry is still mired in IT operations challenges. I think Ghai and I are of one mind, and it's time to awaken the rest of the industry.
Vasu Jakkal, corporate vice president of security at Microsoft, will give a keynote called, "Defending at Machine Speed: Technology's New Frontier." Given the perpetual lack of cybersecurity skills, we can't hire ourselves into stronger cybersecurity, which means getting stronger together by combining automation and analytics with ingenuity to drive for faster and better outcomes.
I'm a marketer and analyst, and storytelling is the key to how I ply my trade. But it's much more than that. Storytelling is how we communicate in just about every aspect of our lives. "How Your Brain Responds to Stories" looks to be a fascinating keynote presentation by Karen Eber, CEO and chief storyteller at Eber Leadership Group.
An honorable mention goes to the keynote panel discussion, "Face the Music: Cybersecurity and the Music Industry," including Grammy-winning musician and songwriter Chris Stapleton. I'm possibly the only cybersecurity analyst at TechTarget's Enterprise Strategy Group who's not a musician. I'm sure the rest of my musical teammates will be tapping their toes in anticipation of this keynote.
Innovation Sandbox and RSAC Launch Pad
Startups are near and dear to my heart. I spent a significant portion of my career in startup land. Innovation Sandbox, one of two RSA startup competitions, is always a highlight of RSAC. My heart goes out to all the entrants stressing up to the last second, making sure their pitch is picture-perfect.
Of this year's 10 contestants, I'm interested in seeing if AnChain.AI -- a self-described next-generation, AI-powered cybersecurity company enhancing trust around blockchain and cryptocurrencies -- can overcome the negative stigma associated with Web3 cryptocurrency to present a compelling business case. And can Zama explain homomorphic encryption to a fifth grader? Can Astrix Security impart the importance of securing machine identities?
An honorable mention goes to RSA's other startup competition, the Shark Tank-style RSAC Launch Pad that gives early-stage startups the chance to deliver a five-minute pitch. One finalist, Guardrail, is another Web 3.0/crypto security platform. But, like AnChain.AI, can it present a compelling business case? And can competitor Balance Theory embrace the "Stronger Together" theme?
RSAC Early Stage Expo
I've been highly influenced by Clayton Christensen's book, The Innovator's Dilemma. Startups are the birthplace of great ideas and often greater execution. I plan to investigate many of the 50 early-stage companies at the RSAC Early Stage Expo that have new perspectives on both our challenges and solutions.
For too long in cybersecurity, the means became the end, and we've lost sight that attackers target endpoints, networks and infrastructure with a solitary goal in mind: accessing data. I'm particularly excited by the eight identity security and 10 data security companies among the newest members of the most promising newcomers community.
AI and machine learning in sessions
RSAC features sessions on more than 25 different topics and tracks. Regardless of the topic or track, I anticipate some common themes, including the human element, the rise of identities and privacy. And, of course, AI and machine learning. In fact, I expect AI and ML to dominate just about every session, talk track and hallway discussion. Sessions should help dispel some of the AI and ML fog and bring some clarity and perspective to the conversation.
AI and ML in the Expo Hall
As strange as it may sound, I'll be wandering the expo halls looking for vendors that do not shout about AI and machine learning, generative AI or chat AI. I've complained before about AI washing, and I'll say it again: Adding AI to your product is not like sprinkling magic pixie dust, and it doesn't create the perfect solution.
We have to use the appropriate tools at the appropriate places to do the appropriate things. Adding AI and ML -- especially a chat interface -- won't help if they hinder the workflow. Or worse, it can hurt if the AI lies to you, as the current incarnations of ChatGPT sometimes do today.
Fundamentally, AI is statistics. The magic of AI is being able to perform statistical analysis at speed and scale incomprehensible to humans. Applying AI correctly, and combining AI with human ingenuity, is still much more art than science -- and third grade art at that. I'll be on the lookout for vendors doing more than just putting lipstick on a pig, those vendors telling the story that AI is one of many tools and techniques they employ to achieve better outcomes.
The best part of RSAC, as with most other conferences, is getting together to meet old friends, make new friends and build a community. While the structured events of the conference are great, I also love learning from random hallway conversations, coffees, drinks and those five-minute breathers between meetings. Please feel free to stop me and say hello anytime. Or stop by Broadcast Alley where, once again, I'll be joining my Enterprise Strategy Group co-analysts to host @Summit live interviews from the expo hall, discussing the conference buzz and pressing cybersecurity issues.