Impressions of the RSA Conference 2018 part I – Keynotes and Innovations

Later than usual, the annual RSA Conference in San Francisco started on April 16th. Breaking another record, about 50.000 participants came to attend talks and trainings, receive updates on the latest product developments or meet with partners and peers. For us as Technology Scouts within DCSO, the most intriguing part is usually the innovations part. As the organizers seem to be aware of that, they provided two specific formats in addition to the regular expo floors: The Innovation Sandbox Contest as well as the Early Stage Expo. Before we come to that, however, some insights on this year’s keynotes (because if Americans can do one thing, it is putting on a show).

Following a musical introduction which reached its (slightly hyperbolic) climax with a gospel choir performing “O Fortuna”, Rohit Ghay, president of RSA, took the stage to elaborate on this year’s theme “NOW matters”. In his so-called security silver linings, he discussed why we should not aim for silver bullets in the long run (as they don’t exist in our complex world anyway), but for small enhancements every day. Following his logic, improving your security posture with small but immediate steps is the way to succeed. So “now matters” as we can change something today even though that change might seem insignificant.

Christopher Young, CEO of McAfee, compared the need for cyber security awareness with the changes in air travel safety, dating back to when you did not even need an ID to board an airplane. Over the years, numerous hijackings as well as 9/11 and several bombings increased the awareness for control measures, not only for the airlines but also for the passengers. Similar to this, ransomware attacks and massive data breaches are expected to increase the overall awareness for cyber security measures across the board. So “now matters” as we might prevent the “9/11 of cyber-attacks” by deploying the means to handle it before it actually happens.

Adding to this argumentation, Brad Smith, president of Microsoft, discussed the social responsibility of cyber security practitioners, while also condemning state sponsored attacks that endanger civilian lives and repeating his call for a digital Geneva Convention. So “now matters” as such attacks are already causing hospitals to cancel treatments and power plants to shut down, impacting civilian lives.

“… an ideal place to see where the industry might be heading.”

So let’s start “now” checking out what promising startups might have an impact in the near future

Mondays Innovation Sandbox Contest (ISBC) allowed 10 selected startups to present themselves in front of a larger audience. The contest follows a set of simple rules: Everyone has exactly 3 minutes to pitch, followed by 3 minutes of Q&A with the expert panel. Afterwards, the jury discusses behind closed doors and later announces a winner. Criteria for the evaluation included the problem being addressed, the originality and intellectual property required to solve the issue, go-to-market strategy and market potential as well as the ability to execute based on the underlying team, advisory boards and investors.

As part of the introduction, the last 5 years of ISBC were reflected on via a leaderboard, showing a total of $1.25bn in investment for those 50 companies, as well as 15 exits. Notable former participants included Phantom (recently acquired by Splunk for $300M) and Lightcyber (acquired by Palo Alto for $105M) as well as Cybereason ($189M funding as of now) and Vectra Networks ($122.5 funding as of now). So yes, this contest has the potential to include the next big thing in the industry.

This year’s participants addressed topics right across the security landscape, including endpoint (Hysolate) and cloud security (StackRox, ShieldX, Fortanix), data privacy (BigID) and compliance (CyberGRX), as well as advanced threat detection (BluVector, Awake) and deception (Acalvio). Focusing on hard-coded passwords and encryption keys in firmware, Refirm labs was the only startup with a value proposition outside of recent “cyber trends” discussions.

“we were positively surprised by the selection”

In the end, it was BigID – helping organizations to identify stored and processed personal information across the enterprise – that beat Fortanix – focusing on cloud workload security leveraging Intel SGX to encrypt workloads at runtime. Probably driven by ongoing discussions about GDPR and how to actually operationalize what is required from organizations, BigID provides a solution that does not claim to be an end to GDPR compliance, but at least a means of identifying what data is actually stored, and where it is used. Still, we were positively surprised by the selection as it addresses addressed a highly relevant topic while failing to be as flashy as other contestants.

On Wednesday, about 50 early stage startups (including most of the ISBC contestants) were exhibiting their solutions in a dedicated Early Stage Expo area. Again, all kinds of solutions could be seen, including some niche players working on bot detection (Unbotify), security of health care related devices (Cynerio) or license compliance with open source libraries (Insignary). “More of the same” vendors targeted improved security orchestration and automation solutions (such as UpLevel and LogicHub), workload protection (Deepfence, EnVeil), supply chain assessments (GovReady, Whistic) and threat intelligence (Sixgill). Many of those startups try to address well-known problems by “outside-the-box” approaches or by closing gaps of already established solutions, yet it remains to be seen which of those actually gets to the next stage. From a pure technology scouting point of view, it was an ideal place to see where the industry might be heading, although only few solutions are probably worth actual consideration in their current state of maturity…

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The “Technology Scouting & Evaluation” (TSE) service identifies and evaluates promising IT security solutions. With this service, DCSO supports companies in staying ahead of a dynamic and ever-changing market. The centralized and unbiased evaluation process is supplemented with the experience of all community members.