The Trends of 2021: Part II

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The experiences and changes brought on by the pandemic have impacted all of us. Speaker submissions for RSA Conference 2021 reflected internalization of trials and challenges, rapid pivots to protect and enable businesses, and even blossoming innovation in the face of significant hurdles. Lessons learned and experience gained in a year of resilience have forever changed us. When we selected our 2021 theme of Resilience long ago, little did we know how deeply appropriate it would be, which seems like the right trend with which to start.

Resilience of People, Processes and Technologies

Resilience, which is core to our industry and is key to define clearly, was highlighted more and more in submissions as discussions shift to calibration of risk; indeed, our Risk Management & Governance track is full of actionable approaches. The challenge of the rapid flip to a predominantly dispersed workforce was significant enough that we decided to highlight it in the new Securing the Remote Workforce track, designed to provide prescriptive guidance to threats from a home-based workforce and recommendations for organizations needing to adjust to the normalization of changes that have been implemented. The track will also look into the future and deliver concrete ideas to help organizations thrive in a sea of change. Assessments have shined the light on challenges and opportunities for organizations that have quickly pivoted, and continuous controls monitoring is being used to help companies raise the bar and evolve cybersecurity resilience. Threat hunting was a significant “micro trend” within this macro trend of resilience, with submissions focused on proactive approaches and picking up on untraditional and difficult-to-find threat indicators like lateral movement, exfiltration, compromised accounts, C2 activity detection, impossible journeys, internal recon, abnormal processes and many more nuanced activities as they worked to scan themselves in search of problems. The significant uptick on “art of the hunt” submissions was of great interest, as was the employment of artificial intelligence to enhance the work of human hunters.

Supply Chain Security & Software Integrity

Another trend within the macro trend of resilience that bears its own review is supply chain security and, related, software integrity, particularly in light of the SolarWinds breach and the ever-growing list of related breaches, a theme that will be touched on in many keynote and track sessions. The 2021 submissions explored the implications of our supply chains on third-party risk, physical security, operational security and business continuity, and also examined the very real and growing geopolitical tensions on supply chain resilience. Always seeking actionable guidance in the material put forward for RSA Conference attendees, the Program Committee was pleased to see sessions focused on the Digital Bill of Materials (DBoM) and Software Bill of Materials (SBoM) as tools to help address supply chain risk management challenges and public-private collaboration opportunities. Reliability, code integrity and good development practices as a theme within DevSecOps & Software Security submissions was also at an all-time high in the proposals reviewed, pointing to steps in our community toward more secure application development processes.

Zero Trust … with Whispers of SASE Emerging

Zero Trust, likely assisted by the overnight remote workforce, rocketed up the adoption curve. We’ve started to see a healthy bank of submissions from end-user organizations willing to share explicit, direct experiences and recommendations coupled with guidance on controls and technologies needed to help overcome roadblocks to implementation and ease the steep learning curve. Submissions have matured to explorations of security capabilities, debates about the pros and cons of standardizing interfaces (i.e., APIs) for integrating different vendor products, potential architectural challenges and opportunities, and actionable guidance for companies looking to secure access for workers, workloads and the Enterprise of Things. SASE, however, seems to be where CASB was a few years ago, ascending the vendor hype cycle, though we would anticipate seeing rapid changes here.

All Hail the Cloud

Related, but worth its own call out, is the explosion of high-quality cloud security-related submissions. Sessions explored the challenges and opportunities of remote management and delivery of … everything. “Everything as a Service” themes, supported by a cloud infrastructure, permeated submissions—endpoint, identity, network, email and security operations centers, as ways to protect sensitive information, were examined. Submissions also explored the impact of primarily cloud-based deployments on timely dissemination of threat intelligence to all vectors of compromise, which are no longer deployed in centralized locations. On the application security front, we also observed submissions around purpose-built cloud applications that required security in the apps, and on the other end, more adoption of cloud services, with the expectation of app security built-in. The far-reaching impact of this rapid move to the cloud will arguably be felt for years, presenting—perhaps—an opportunity for security to no longer introduce friction into the system and rather help reduce friction in the system. Indeed, there seems to be a significant opportunity here for developers.

Privacy Further Entrenched into Architecture & Operations

The changing nature of the privacy conversation, which we did touch on in last year’s trends, continues to evolve. Whereas in the early years our Privacy track was fairly narrow and of interest exclusively to privacy practitioners, this year the overlap of selections of “privacy-minded” sessions within other tracks was profound, and mature privacy-focused frameworks and codification of processes have emerged that will further drive privacy into corporate architecture and operations. Very clearly, privacy is a cornerstone to the cybersecurity ecosystem, seeming to move to a core value vs. a compliance checkbox for many, though unintended consequences are emerging and the hackers are taking note. The tone of privacy-related submissions also changed. Last year CCPA seemed positioned to take over the federal scene and radically disrupt industry but seemed to lose some steam when COVID-19 hit, and the tenuous balance between privacy and security lay raw, exemplified very clearly in contract tracing challenges and other risks related to identity tracking. New legislation in the area of data protection, privacy and security has also emerged, and the California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA) with its GDPR-like reach in California will likely change the way we’re regulating ourselves in upcoming years. And, as with every other area of our lives and industry, COVID-19 has likely forever impacted the relationship between privacy and security, and clear lessons have been learned.

Coming back full circle to where we started: We are a resilient industry comprised of resilient humans. No part of our worlds, small or large, personal or professional, was left untouched by the events of the past year. We look forward to sharing education and experience, learnings and challenges, as we come together as a community at RSA Conference 2021.

RSAC Insights

cloud security endpoint security identity theft privacy risk management security awareness software code vulnerability analysis supply chain threat management zero trust

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