In less than two weeks, 17,000 people are expected to visit the Moscone Center in San Francisco for this year's RSA Conference. Most will likely be blissfully unaware of the amount of work that goes into preparing an event attended by thousands of people. Sandra Toms LaPedis will not be one of them.
Toms LaPedis is the area vice president and general manager of the conference, which this year features a new class track and speakers ranging from former Vice President Al Gore to a plethora of high-level executives from security companies including Symantec and of course, EMC 's RSA division.
"We're excited to have a lot of returning speakers and some new speakers as well," Toms LaPedis said. "In the program we always look to invite certain speakers who we think would be of interest to the audience very broadly."
Big name keynotes still grab headlines, but the conference, which will run April 7 to 11, is placing a premium on research with a new class track, "Research Revealed," where security professionals will present cutting-edge findings on security vulnerabilities and methods for analyzing current threats, said Toms LaPedis said.
The track has 13 classes including "Security Challenges in Virtualized Environments," hosted by Joanna Rutkowska, CEO and Founder of Invisible Things Lab and "Dynamic Taint Propagation: Finding Vulnerabilities Without Attacking" by Fortify Software founder Brian Chess.
A Far Cry From 50 Cryptographers in a Ballroom
Planning for the event begins literally almost as soon as the preceding conference ends. Using the surveys filled out by attendees as a starting point, organizers work together to find out what worked, and what didn't.
"We pull everything together in a big meeting that we lovingly refer to as boot camp," Toms LaPedis said. "When we do our call-for-papers process during the summer months, we receive an incredible number of abstracts. I think this year we received 2,800 for the 200 or so speaking slots. So it's really hard to vet every submission, and our program committee does and they are pretty phenomenal."
That the conference was pushed back two months later than last year however is not a reflection of this workload, but the result of scheduling conflicts at the Moscone Center , Toms LaPedis said.
This year, the conference features 19 class tracks, more than 220 sessions and nearly 360 vendors on the exhibition floor demonstrating products and new releases. It's a far cry from the events beginnings in 1991 as a forum for cryptographers to discuss IT security.
"Seventeen years ago it was 50 cryptographers meeting in a ballroom on the peninsula here in the bay area, and it has expanded to what it is today," Toms LaPedis said. " RSA purposely has really driven this event to be vendor-agnostic. There's been this forceful move to kind of open up the agenda, make it vendor-agnostic, and have the industry as a whole come together and work on some of the more difficult problems together that we face as a larger industry."