RSAC 2022 Recap: Back on the road

By Tim Hurley

After more than a two-year hiatus, RSAC – cybersecurity’s premier live event – returned to San Francisco’s Moscone Center last week.  I had the pleasure of attending; meeting with Matter’s 10 exhibiting clients, staffing press and analysts; and catching up with all our fellow cyber professionals.

The sheer magnitude of the event makes it impossible to catch everything, so for those who attended and those who could not, here are my biggest takeaways.

10 Thoughts on RSAC 2022 

The Theme: The official theme of this conference was “Transform,” which might have been aspirational. However, senior execs I spoke with gave a differing and unsolicited opinion. “I am not sure there was a theme this year,” said one unicorn CEO. “Two years ago, it was Zero Trust.  This year nothing jumps out.” 

Similarly, the North American cyber practice lead for a global system integrator shared, “Usually there is a theme that comes out of the conference that everyone attaches to. (i.e., Zero Trust, etc.). That was not readily apparent this year. I see services as being vital to ensure that vendors can effectively implement their technology, so it does not become shelf ware.” At the technology level, topics among the noisiest were XDR, SASE and API security.

The Vibe: It was certainly optimistic, active and friendly – lots of networking, productive conversations and meetings of the minds. It signaled a yearning for days of yore, when live events and physical interactions were ubiquitous. One cyber marketing executive I spoke to mentioned how great it was to see people “in 3D.”  It was a jovial, high-energy environment and everyone seemed genuinely happy to be in person and step away from Zoom meetings for the week.

The Elephant in the Conference Halls: The biggest question on most minds was, “What would actual attendance be? Pre-pandemic, RSAC attracted 37,000-42,000 cyber professionals. This year, it felt busy but certainly short of that range. One RSAC and industry vet I spoke with put the number at 20,000. That felt low to my rather unscientific calculation. If accurate, that is still a lot of people, she noted.  However, if I am in charge of lead gen or closing deals for a cyber vendor, it makes my job a lot tougher if leads generated are similarly cut in half.

Monitoring the Media: A similarly critical element to RSAC is press and media attendance and interaction. To say witnessing reporters in the wild was akin to Bigfoot sightings would be a stretch, but there was definitely a drop off. Several key reporters who were expected to attend the event did not. Conversations with vendors, fellow communications professionals and analysts all confirmed this.

Most press scheduled very few briefings, preferring to attend keynotes and sessions, and reporting news from their hotel room or press room. Broadcast Alley was active with several outlets constantly running live and taped sponsored interviews, but the press room area seemed quiet at times. Whether this dynamic was created by health and safety concerns, budget cuts, the Gartner Security & Risk Management Summit, or simply due to the ratio of exhibitors to media (400+ to approximately 100) is not readily apparent. One analyst told us he simply had to prioritize the bigger companies since so much time had elapsed since the previous RSAC. Several other reporters prioritized their meeting schedule for companies with major news or who were speaking at the show.

The “Must See” Attractions: Cyber asset management provider Axonius brought in Olympic champion gymnast Simone Biles for booth discussions. Wondering what Simone Biles has to do with cybersecurity? So were many, including Axonius itself (on its booth signage). Biles and CrossFit champ Amy Bream talked about overcoming adversity as part of Axonius’ push to showcase the human element of cyber.

XDR provider Uptycs’ Sandbox VR exhibit drew rave reviews for its Star Trek Holodeck-inspired group gaming experience. I heard the zombies put up a serious fight. Endpoint security provider SentinelOne had the coolest booth in my opinion — with an eye-catching black and purple color scheme and their “Tree of Life” design. 

Managed detection and response client Expel got plenty of attention thanks to its stream of performances by freestyle rapper and YouTube sensation, Harry Mack. Harry was amazing, attracting big crowds and drawing attention from nearby booths who found their demos and discussions drowned out by Harry’s electric performance.

The Safety Dance: RSAC did a great job communicating its new policies, re-configuring certain areas for distancing and making masks optional, but recommended. Its badging process featured true “Multi Factor Authentication” in the form of a three-step process of showing an ID and vaccination proof at two different locations, printing the badge at a third and pick up at a fourth. Each step was super efficient, so it was a small price to pay in the spirit of precaution. Both the keynotes and sessions provided generous seating, and many people opted to space out from one another, so the rooms never felt too crowded.

The Social Scene: RSAC’s evening parties are legendary and too numerous to count. 2022 saw no drop in this area. However, it was impossible not to notice the extremely active bar scene at The W, The St. Regis, the Four Seasons and other nearby hotels. It was great to see deal making, networking, interviewing and more in full force again. Likewise, The Grove, Mel’s Drive-In and Lemonade were hot spots for networking or staying hydrated and well-fed.

The Approaching Storm: Despite the optimism of RSAC and the overall healthy funding flowing into the cybersecurity industry with M&A and robust hiring, you could not avoid discussions of recent cyber firms’ layoffs, dropping valuations and declining stock prices. People are diligently strategizing, given the larger economic forces at work.

The NBA Finals: With a huge number of Bostonians attending RSAC, the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors series provided an additional layer of excitement. Moscone-area bars –  like the Golden Gate Tavern and Murphy’s Pub (with its distinct Boston flavor, accentuated by Red Sox signage, autographed Tom Brady jersey and more) and the area hotels – were all excellent venues for Game 2 and Game 3 TV viewing. No doubt many RSAC attendees rescheduled their party and dinner plans to catch some of the games. This Celtics fan was impressed by “Dub” fans’ passion and good sportsmanship.

The Road Ahead: RSAC 2023 is set for April 24 – 27, just ten months from now. This allows RSAC to avoid a head-on conflict with Gartner’s Security & Risk Management Summit, something RSAC created this year when it pushed RSAC2022 out from February due to COVID-19 concerns. However, as one Forrester analyst pointed out to me, it will force a fair amount of vendors to fund the event twice in a short period of time – perhaps the same fiscal year. That could be a tall order, even for those who skipped 2021.

Did I miss anything? Our team would love to hear your RSAC highlights! Drop us a message below to share your thoughts or learn more about our work with today’s leading firms on our cybersecurity page.