A Complete Guide to Hacking the 2020 RSA Conference

January 23, 2020
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5 min read

The RSA Conference is just around the corner. If you feel like this cybersecurity conference snuck up, you’re not alone. The 29th RSAC is Feb. 23–27 at San Francisco’s Moscone Center, much earlier on the calendar than RSAC 19 or 18 were. It’s scheduled, it’s early and it’s officially go-time.

As an RSAC attendee, your task is to create a survival strategy. Over 42,000 people showed up at RSAC 2019, and this year will be even larger. There are 700 speakers, 500 sessions and 70 keynotes in the lineup this year. I’m not going to promise that you can see it all, since that’s impossible, but you’re guaranteed to see a lot.

What’s New at RSAC 2020

The official theme of RSAC 2020 is the “Human Element.” In a big way, the cyber community chose this topic. Conference themes often emerge during RSAC’s annual call for speakers. This year, 2,400 submissions had a few recurring themes, including human interest.

“I believe there’s a growing understanding of the ‘people’ part of the equation in solving security challenges,” says RSAC Content Director Britta Glade. Individual skills are one layer of the challenge, and diverse teams are another. Recently, humans are forming new partnerships with artificial intelligence (AI).

“People — humans! — are the stars of the industry and the most important promise of the future,” said Glade.

RSAC gets a little bigger and better each year, and it looks like the 2020 conference will present many new pathways for engagement as well as new content tracks.

Engagement

It’s not always easy to find genuine peer connections in a crowd of almost 50,000 people. Fortunately, RSAC 2020 has many new features to foster engagement. There are “Speed Networking” events. There are cooperative learning sessions, where small groups break out for discussion. Finally, RSAC 2020 will see the debut of Braindate. It’s probably the first-ever conference networking app.

Content Tracks

There are 23 total tracks, or topic areas used to group content, at RSAC 2020. There are two all-new tracks on open-source security tools and product security.

Top 8 Things to Do at the 2020 RSA Conference

1. Explore the Human Element

The Human Element is both the official conference theme and a dedicated topic track. Everyone can find a relevant session here. There’s a major focus on connections between humans, security and privacy.

While there are far too many fascinating sessions in this track to list, here are a few we’re excited about:

2. Attend a Keynote on Human Security

Technology isn’t always enough to face adversaries. To drive security into the fabric of your business, you need to invest in people.

Intrigued? Learn more with IBM Security General Manager Mary O’Brien, Global X-Force Response Lead Wendi Whitmore, and ADP CSO Roland Cloutier. This keynote will address how human investments dramatically improve security outcomes.

The 2020 keynote schedule reflects a commitment to diversity. There are 70 diverse perspectives from both inside and outside the security profession. Here are a few other can’t-miss keynotes:

3. Investigate Machine Learning and AI

It’s impossible to play RSAC favorites. The challenge isn’t picking “the best” session or keynote — it’s drinking from a firehouse of exceptional content.

That said, the Machine Learning & Artificial Intelligence track looks absolutely outstanding. It includes sessions on critical AI topics like ethics, bias and adversarial AI.

Here are a few to put on your shortlist:

4. Show Up Early

The main RSA Conference runs from Tuesday, Feb. 25 through Friday, Feb. 28. However, there are some conference events that start on Sunday, Feb. 23rd. The week begins with training and certification programming, and Sunday and Monday are your chance to take a 2-day cram course for CISM or CISSP certification.

Monday, Feb. 24 features special programs, including a full-day event on Emerging Threats with experts from the realms of industry, government and academia. Wendi Whitmore will discuss cyber readiness lessons from cities with Gustavo Rodriguez of the NYPD, Nicole Perlroth of the New York Times and Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Jeff Gorell.

Monday afternoon is also the annual RSAC Innovation Sandbox Competition. It’s almost exactly like an episode of “Shark Tank.” Ten startups have three minutes each to pitch groundbreaking cyber innovations to a panel of VCs.

5. Hack a Smart Car

There are 12 RSAC Sandboxes for hands-on learning. CISOs and students can collaborate to extract data from a trashed internet of things (IoT) device or hack a smart car.

6. Go on a Braindate

The Braindate App will make its debut in late January 2020. This engagement tool blends concepts from online dating apps and crowdsourcing platforms. Opting-in to Braindate is a non-mandatory part of the conference registration.

When the app goes live, it’s on. Braindate users can send meet-up invites to connect with one or more peers. You can source like-minded candidates through a topic search or generator. Accepted Braindates then populate your RSAC schedule in the main event app.

7. Catch the Cryptographer’s Panel

The RSA Conference kicks off each year with an opening Cryptographer’s Panel. It’s a panel discussion between security luminaries and their security luminary friends. Ronald Rivest and Adi Shami, the “R” and “S” in RSAC, are panelists along with crypto experts Whitfield Diffie and Tal Rabin.

There’s no official topic for the annual Cryptographer’s Panel, which is half of the fun. The keynote is an uncensored debate on the state of security and privacy between friends. Two years ago at RSAC 2018, the cryptographers took a critical look at blockchain hype, and last year the panel examined privacy regulations. It’s anyone’s guess where the discussion will lead this year.

9:15-12:00, Feb. 25

8. Face Your FOMO

Fear of missing out, or FOMO, is unavoidable for RSAC attendees. You’re going to miss out on some sessions, as you can’t possibly attend 500 sessions and 700 exhibitor booths in a 4-day span.

Face your FOMO by putting time and attention into your conference schedule before you land in San Francisco. You could use the scheduling feature in the RSAC app. Strive to balance sessions, keynotes, vendor meetings and networking, and remember that you can catch recorded replays. Many major sessions are available via RSAC On-Demand.

At least once a day, step outside the 87-acre Moscone Center for 20 minutes. RSAC is just a block east of the spacious Yerba Buena Gardens, which is a prime spot to recharge.

How to Survive RSAC 2020

“RSA Conference is a large event,” warns Glade. “New visitors — as well as experienced attendees — definitely should have a plan for what they want to attend.” Attendees should “reserve a seat” in classroom sessions using the official conference app.

Speaking from personal experience, I would recommend reserving your hotel room sooner rather than later. San Francisco is a notoriously expensive destination, and RSAC rooms get booked quickly. While the city does have excellent public transportation, you don’t want to stay far away. Getting a room close to Moscone would be ideal for such a demanding week.

RSAC 2020 first-timers should reserve a seat for the Know Before You Go webcast on Feb. 11. It’s also smart to plan for the First-Timers Orientation event at 4 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 24.

Stay tuned for our live coverage of the 2020 RSA Conference, Feb. 24-28!

Jasmine Henry

Jasmine Henry (formerly Jasmine W. Gordon) is a Seattle-based emerging commentator and freelance journalist specializing in analytics, information security, ...
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