Takeaways from RSA Conference 2020

By Tim Hurley

Spectacular sunny blue skies greeted the 36,000 plus attendees at this year’s RSA Conference (RSAC) in San Francisco, the 25th annual gathering of the global cybersecurity industry and vendor community. And throughout the week, the weather remained gorgeous and the mood upbeat and energizing.

Despite COVID-19, otherwise known as the 2019 coronavirus, which prompted major brands like AT&T, IBM and Verizon to withdraw from this year’s conference and the city of San Francisco to declare a state of emergency, RSA 2020 went on as planned, although attendance was understandably down about 20 percent from last year.

The theme of this year’s conference, “The Human Element” proved to be extremely fitting, if not downright prescient.

The keynotes, including We the People: Democratizing Security given by Wendy NatherHead of Advisory CISOs at Duo Security (now Cisco), focused heavily on the role that we as humans play in cybersecurity. 

Five Matter clients attended, including Attivo NetworksAuth0EgressSectigo and Perimeter 81. Marketing and technical team members from three of these clients made the trek from the UK and Israel. These clients collectively took home a major prize haul, garnering an impressive 23 industry awards from leading organizations including SC Magazine, Cyber Defense Magazine, Info Security Products Guide, Cybersecurity Go To Market Dojo, Info Security. Three clients were featured in CSO’s Hottest new cybersecurity products at RSA Conference 2020 article, some rather rare editorial real estate given the hundreds of new products and solutions unveiled during RSAC 2020. 

Overall, media presence was fairly strong, but like overall attendance, seemed to have taken a dip from previous years. This may or may not be a function of the coronavirus fears, but rather the continued media consolidation, cost cutting and many moving to a paid model for content and video assets. Feedback our teams received ahead of time from press and analysts indicated that the sheer size of RSAC has become a bit of a turn-off for some. Industry analysts seemed to outnumber reporters and editors and many of the attending reporters spent most of their time in the keynotes, breakout sessions and reporting on news at RSAC and elsewhere from the press room. During my two full days of the show I don’t recall seeing many editors walking the show floor other than for scheduled meetings with vendors. And one veteran cybersecurity journalist told us that during his four full days at RSAC, he spent a total of 45 minutes on the show floor. 

Whether this was an anomaly or the shape of things to come, we’re inclined to find out. Matter is planning a “Media Pulse” follow-up poll to provide deeper and broader perspective on media attendance and feedback of the event overall. Stay tuned for those details.

Other observations, takeaways and noteworthy points: 

  • Major kudos to the entire RSAC team. What is normally a several month grind in planning and preparation was undoubtedly ratcheted up this year given the coronavirus. RSAC communicated early and often – and highly effectively – to update attendees on the situation and precautions that attendees needed to be taking.
  • The lobbies at the St. Regis, Four Seasons and the W hotels were among the places to be. Each was a constant beehive of activity with meet-ups taking place from early morning straight through until evening. Many vendors reported using this space to augment or in lieu of a show floor exhibit.
  • As usual, evening cocktail receptions and parties such as the Security Marcom event at Thirsty Bear, Margarita Monday@RSAC!, the Cyber Risk Alliance at the Keystone and the annual SC Magazine Awards dinner were once again oversubscribed and gave RSAC attendees a chance to let loose once the sun went down.
  • At the keynotes, breakouts and booths, popular topics of discussion included diversity and inclusion, but also privacy, machine learning and artificial intelligence, DevSecOps, secure access service edge (SASE), policy and government, applied crypto and blockchain. And, for the first time, open source tools, product security and anti-fraud got their moment to shine.
  • Finally, congrats to SECURITI.ai, which was named RSA Conference 2020’s “Most Innovative Startup” by a panel of expert judges during the fifteenth annual RSAC Innovation Sandbox. They will be a company to watch in future years.

Given the sheer size of RSAC, we have only scratched the surface here on event highlights. What would you add to this list?