Take it from a veteran of the past several RSA Conferences: If there's one thing attendees at next week's gathering in San Francisco can count on, it'll be a slew of reminders of how everything we hear relates to the current news cycle.
Whether it's been analyzing the revelations surrounding whistle-blower Edward Snowden, going over the details of the huge Target data breach of 2013, or engaging in gratuitous handwringing over widespread vulnerabilities like Heartbleed, RSAC presenters have typically used news hooks to give their comments added weight.
In fact, if I'd made a point of tallying each reference to these stories at previous RSACs… well, I'd have had a lot of tallies. And with good reason. Stories like these resonate with people in and out of the security world, helping messages resonate with a larger audience. How better to get an audience of IT buyers to think hard about their security postures than to constantly remind them of what happened to Sony in 2014?
So what will this year's topical flashpoints be? The biggest one is easy to predict: I would bet my mother that no story gets more mention from RSAC presenters than Apple's ongoing tête-à-tête with the FBI over the fate of the iPhone 5C that belonged to one of the shooters in last year's San Bernardino, Calif., attack.
And naturally, I expect the attitude of the RSAC crowd to be quite different than that of the general public, which seems to be lining up behind the FBI—a development I find hilariously ironic in a year in which Donald Trump has proven to be an unstoppable political force.
How far do the tentacles of the Apple-FBI tilt reach? Far enough that the current-event topics likely to be popular next week are related in some way to that story.
For instance, on the counter-terrorism side of things, with top officials from the DoD, DHS, NSA, FBI and several other federal acronyms on the agenda, you can expect to hear a lot about the threat—both physical and digital—posed by the Islamic State.
It's also fair to predict that the numerous security issues raised by the explosion of mobile device use will be a larger topic than ever this year—fueled, of course, by the implications of the FBI's efforts to obtain backdoor access into the infamous iPhone.
Think about how InfoSec executives' heads are spinning at the prospect of the Feds having what Apple CEO Tim Cook has equated to the keys to every iPhone model before the 6 and 6S. If that doesn't generate some discussion of the potential threat to sensitive data stored on mobile devices, then nothing will.
Naturally, social media will make the topical-reference grinder, too. Specifically, the steps Facebook and Twitter have taken to limit the Islamic State's recruitment activities on their networks—and the death threats their CEOs received recently in response to those efforts, will be alluded to for maximum impact. It wouldn't surprise me if Facebook and Twitter get the biggest ovations they've ever received from an RSAC crowd for taking what at least appears to be a courageous stand.
Not everything will point back to the Apple-FBI story, though.
Another story on the minds of many IT security executives is likely to be the growing battle over the vacant seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. With the court's future hanging in the balance, as political stakeholders brace themselves for a battle over the late Justice Anton Scalia's former seat, forward-thinking InfoSec decision-makers must be wondering how future court decisions might impact them.
That's not all; there will also be plenty of talk about some of the issues IT security folks can soon expect to face on the frontlines of their businesses. Topics such as whether the Internet of Things will unleash a wave of machine-to-machine attacks, the improving state of cloud security, and efforts between Europe and the U.S. to reach a safe harbor deal on the movement of personal data across international borders all figure to get their share of attention.
As you can see, there's certainly no shortage of topics that RSAC presenters can draw from to lend more urgency to their messages. One suggestion: If you haven't kept up with any of these stories, you might want to brush up on the latest developments if you want to keep up. Besides, the cultural references will come in handy during the week's abundant networking opportunities.