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Five things to watch at RSA Conference 2017

This blog post is part of our Essential Guide: RSA 2017: Special conference coverage

RSA Conference 2017 officially kicks off Monday, and once again it will bring several topics, trends and potential controversies to the center of attention of the information security industry. Unlike previous RSA conferences, this year it’s been harder to identify one or two major themes heading into the show. But there are several storylines I’ll be following closely at RSA Conference 2017, starting with these five:

1. Rise of the machine learning model

Machine learning has been a persistent buzzword in the infosec industry recently, and that should continue at this year’s RSA Conference. Vendors big and small have moved away from signature-based antivirus and antimalware products to embrace machine learning models that no longer rely on existing malware definitions to detect threats. The antivirus software market has come under heavy scrutiny lately, thanks to head-scratching security flaws and persistent questions about the software’s effectiveness. But it remains to be seen if advanced threat detection products leveraging machine learning will be the true heir apparent. There’s also considerable confusion around the differences between machine learning and artificial intelligence, thanks to vendors using the terms interchangeably. Hopefully this year’s show will provide some clarity.

2. DDoS denial

Distributed denial of services (DDoS) attacks have long been a thorn in the sides of many enterprises, but until recently DDoS attacks have typically been viewed as minor nuisances rather as than major threats. That may be changing in the wake of the powerful Mirai botnet attacks last year. Several vendors and service providers are poised to deliver new mitigation products to combat these potent DDoS attacks. But the attacks have also led to growing concerns about the insecurity of internet of things (IoT) devices as well as potential legal or regulatory actions that may follow those concerns; both subjects will be addressed at the conference. And it’s unclear whether the infosec industry as a whole will be ready when the next wave of record-setting DDoS attacks takes aim at critical internet infrastructure.

3. The Trump effect

RSA Conference has been home to controversies in the past, and this year’s show is likely to host yet another one. A number of technology companies, organizations and conferences have spoken out in recent days against President Trump’s controversial executive order barring entry into the U.S. for people from seven Muslim-majority Middle Eastern countries. In the week before RSAC 2017 several technology companies, including Microsoft, Google and Intel, signed an amicus brief opposing Trump’s executive order; RSA, however, was not on the list. RSA Conference said last week it has not been impacted by the executive order. But the conference will feature Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) as a keynote speaker Tuesday; McCaul, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, was initially a strong supporter of Trump’s action, though he later qualified that support, and reportedly contributed to the executive order. McCaul has appeared at previous RSA Conferences and has spoken out against encryption backdoors, but his support of the controversial executive order could earn him criticism from some attendees.

4. RSA’s direction

RSA itself has undergone major changes recently. Not only has the security vendor done an about face with its product portfolio, leaving behind its legacy encryption business in favor of identity and access management, but it experienced another executive leadership change recently. Former RSA President Amit Yoran departed the company in December, just weeks before this year’s show, to take the CEO position at Tenable Network Security. Yoran was named RSA president in 2014 and took over from former RSA head Art Coviello during a turbulent period for the vendor (RSA was criticized over reported ties to the U.S. National Security Agency). While RSA quickly tapped Rohit Ghai, formerly president of Dell EMC’s Enterprise Content Division, to fill the void, Yoran’s departure comes at a time when RSA is still trying to establish its new identity and questions about the company’s future with Dell EMC (or as an independent entity or acquisition target) persist.

5. Cloud security shakeup

Setting aside recent activity from cloud giants like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, the cloud security market has been in rut in terms of innovation and excitement. Cloud access security brokers have dominated much of the attention in the market, but after a flurry of investments and acquisitions in 2015 and early 2016, even the CASB market has been quiet lately. But that may be changing as several CASBs have broadened their scope beyond protecting major SaaS applications and are now moving to address IaaS security. And that’s good news, considering the growing number of attacks either targeting cloud services or using them as command & control infrastructure for other targets. With the rush of cloud-focused products from traditional security vendors waning over the last year, a shot in the arm from CASBs could be just what the cloud security market needs.

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