The Trends of 2021: RSAC Program Committee Shares Reflections from Submission Reviews

Posted on by Kacy Zurkus

Notification letters are out, the schedule is set and speakers are busily turning their proposals into presentations as we all prepare for RSA Conference 2021 Virtual Experience May 17-20. While some things will be different this year, we are trying to stay true to our traditions where we can. That’s why we are excited to bring you this year’s 2021 submission trends.


In our pool of nearly 2,000 submissions, we saw a lot of evidence that cybersecurity professionals are looking to improve from both a functional and technical standpoint, but we also noted that this year’s submitters were looking to inspire those who don’t fit the typical mold of a cybersecurity professional.


Across the different tracks, our Program Committee (PC) members noted an increased focus on endpoints, with XDR trending along with a notable number of DLP conversations. It likely goes without saying that there was a watershed of COVID-related submissions ranging from survival to innovation. Kevin Thompson, Anti-Fraud PC member, noted a shift toward a “fusion center,” indicative of the need for large organizations to break down silos in order to address and respond to today’s threats. We saw an uptick in submissions specific to Deepfakes and Business Email Compromise, and Blockchain colored into many conversations from Zero Trust to Frameworks.


As you might imagine, narrowing the trends down was a bit challenging, so we solicited the help of our PC. Here’s a look at five trends that members of our PC identified in their track’s RSA Conference 2021 submissions.

Evolution of Roles: As we’ve seen every year, there were many submissions that spoke to the evolution of the CISO, who is increasingly required to have more frequent communication with the board; thus, attendees at RSA Conference 2021 will have the opportunity to learn about the ways that CISOs can develop new communications skills. We are seeing a trend in the rise of Chief Product Security Officers (CPSOs), a role PC member Megan Samford on the Securing All the Things track pointed out is separate from a CISO. The CPSO, “covers the security of what a company sells—building security in, both in terms of features and secure development throughout the lifecycle of a product.”

Straight Talk about ML & AI: This year’s PC for the ML & AI track was pleased to see talks that focused on the practical realities of using AI and ML. “These are vast, confusing technical areas, and in previous years we saw a lot of “magic unicorn glitter”—which made this year’s submission a welcome change,” wrote Diana Kelley and Saurabh Shintre. “The trend this year was towards lessons learned, applicable takeaways for organizations and practitioners as well as limitations and issues around potential harms of AI.” Kelley and Shintre really appreciate seeing more practical use cases in submissions offering ways to generate and catch spam using AI tools like Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3 (GPT-3), how ML can inject fairness into federated learning, how to stop attacks on advanced driving-assistance systems, and how ML is in use today at large financial services institutions to advance data visualization and automation to combat fraud.

Information Manipulation and Its Impact: A resounding theme this year is echoed in the title of one of this year’s Human Element sessions: Invisible Security: Protecting Users with No Time to Spare. Trending more than phishing, though, was disinformation campaigns. Andrea Little Limbago, PC member on the Human Element track, wrote,“There were also several submissions on disinformation campaigns and their security impact. On the one hand, this is not surprising given the widespread impact of these campaigns from many of the same threat actors.”

Ransomware Attacks: Greg Day was not surprised to see a continued focus on ransomware in the Hackers & Threats track. “We have seen the attacks becoming more sophisticated and targeted. Often they are now carrying multiple payloads such as ransoming data access but also either reselling the data on or extorting further funds under threat of posting non-public data in the public domain,” Day wrote. “And while some ransomware is still focused on random victims, others have become far more targeted. The healthcare industry has certainly seen the pain from this.”

Share and Share Alike: Submissions reviewed by the Analytics, Intelligence & Response PC revealed that more intelligence sharing is needed. Todd Inskeep wrote, “Several organizations have learned lessons that work in specific sectors (like the Cyber Threat Alliance for the cybersecurity industry) and plan to share lessons on how to make sharing work better and make it more valuable. Perhaps the most intriguing thesis is that aligning intelligence sharing to business needs can drive more valuable sharing of insights.”

his is only a glimpse into the hundreds of sessions that will be available at RSA Conference 2021 in May. Stay tuned for the second blog of this two-part blog series highlighting another five trends that emerged from this year’s submissions.

Kacy Zurkus

Senior Content Manager, RSA Conference

RSAC Insights

artificial intelligence & machine learning disinformation campaigns/fake news ransomware security analytics threat intelligence

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