The annual RSA Conference USA starts Feb. 29 in San Francisco, and once again, the halls of the Moscone Center will be filled to capacity with vendors and users alike, united in the common purpose of understanding the modern security paradigm.
Without any doubt, the ongoing privacy and legal battle between Apple and the FBI over unlocking the iPhone 5c, used by one of the suspects in a Dec. 2, 2015, mass shooting that killed 14 people and wounded 22 others in San Bernardino, Calif., will be mentioned often. The news of the day is always reflected in the announcements, sessions and keynotes at the RSA Conference. In that respect, it's an event that quite literally (in terms of timing) follows the hottest security topics of the day.
For the last two years, the ongoing revelations from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden have been the primary topic, but that will fall into the background this year.
The reality of the actual session selection for the RSA Conference, though, is that all of the content and speakers were chosen before the Apple-FBI incident became a national conversation, but likely that won't stop it from being mentioned in every session. That said, privacy and the need to balance personal privacy with security has long been a topic of discussion at RSA events.
Among the many panels I have attended at RSA annual conferences for multiple years is one on privacy that is led by Trevor Hughes, president and CEO of the International Association of Privacy Professionals. At the 2013 version of the panel, sparks were flying as Google's Senior Privacy Counsel challenged Microsoft's Chief Privacy Officer over privacy claims. The 2014 edition of the privacy panel was highlighted by a conversation between Google, Microsoft and Intel Security that debated the line between privacy and security. In 2015, former sparring legal counsels from Google and Microsoft agreed that data privacy should be integrated at the product level.
The 2016 edition of the privacy panel is set to occur Tuesday, March 1, with Google, Microsoft and Adobe all talking privacy—and no doubt discussing how they will deal with FBI requests. There is also a high-profile panel on March 3 on security and privacy led by Art Coviello, former executive chairman of RSA, who will likely be pushing the Digital Equilibrium project he helps lead.
Coviello's successor at RSA, Amit Yoran, will kick off the RSA 2016 keynotes on March 1 with a session titled "The Sleeper Awakes." In his 2015 keynote, Yoran argued that a new approach was needed for security because the legacy approaches were broken. Expect to hear about how the new approach is working and how it's not, as sleeping IT organizations wake up to the reality of modern threats.
Yoran also is handling the closing keynote, which is an interview with actor Sean Penn on Friday, March 4. No word yet on if Penn will take any questions about his recent interview of Mexican drug lord Joaquin El Chapo Guzman that led to his arrest.
Penn isn't the only person from the entertainment industry set to grace the RSA Conference keynote stage. Actors from the "CSI Cyber" TV drama will participate in a panel March 3 about the intersection of show business and the security business.
In the session rooms across the conference, I expect that, in addition to privacy, the Internet of things (IoT) will resonate loudly as a key topic of concern. No doubt, multiple studies will debut next week, reminding us all how weak security is for connected and wearable devices.
The need for visibility and control for IoT will be a key message also coming from the vendors in the exhibit halls. In addition, I expect that the theme and message about requiring advanced security intelligence will echo across the Moscone Center exhibit halls.
It's hard to say for certain whether the RSA Conference helps organizations solve security issues, but there is no doubt it can help raise awareness and visibility for both vendors and security risks. The challenge for both attendees and vendors will be to go beyond the noise and the proclamations to find the granules of truth and practical approaches to make organizations more secure.
Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.