RSA Conference 2021: The Best Place to Strengthen Your Resilience
RSA Conference 2021: The Best Place to Strengthen Your Resilience

This year’s RSA Conference will look a little different. Instead of booking flights and hotel rooms in the busy city of San Francisco, we’ll be powering up computers in our home office with family in the next room. We’ve all had a tumultuous year and with that comes resilience, which is also this year’s conference theme.

Ahead of the RSA virtual conference, I spoke with a few of my colleagues about the major themes we should expect to see at RSA this year.

Q: This year’s RSA Conference theme is resilience. What does ‘resilience’ mean to you when protecting the world from cyberthreats?

Scott Howitt, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer – The COVID lockdown has exposed to enterprises that the ability to recover your business (Business Continuity) is important in the face of disaster, but Business Resilience means that your business will be able to adapt to Black Swan events. I’ve seen technology be the catalyst for resilience for most organizations.

Raj Samani, Chief Scientist and McAfee Fellow – For me, it would be ability to continue operations in light of disruption. Whether that disruption originated from digital factors, or indeed physical but to keep the wheels turning.

John Fokker, Principal Engineer and Head of Cyber Investigations for McAfee ATR – Just like Boxing: Isn’t as much about not being hit, because you are in the ring and punches are thrown, but resilience to me is more about how fast you can get back up on your feet once you do get hit. The same is true with security operations, attackers are going to try to hit you, but how good is your defense so you can minimize the impact of the attack and in the case you do get knocked down what controls do you have in place that you can get back up and resume operations.

Amanda House, Data Scientist – Cybersecurity is a unique industry in that new cyberthreats are always improving to avoid detection. A machine learning model made a month ago could now have weakness an adversary has learned to exploit. Machine learning model practitioners need to be resilient in always innovating and improving on past models to outpace new threats. Resilience is constantly monitoring machine learning models so that when we notice decay we can quickly improve them to stop new cyberthreats.

Sherin Mathews, Senior Research Scientist – To me, cyber-resilience implies being able to protect critical assets, maintain operations, and, most importantly, embrace new technologies in the face of evolving threats. The cybersecurity field is an arms race scenario with the threat landscape changing so much. In case of threats like deepfakes, some deepfakes will reach ultra-realism in the coming few years, many will still be more amateurish, and we need to keep advancing towards the best detection methods with newer forms of threats. I feel resiliency doesn’t mean you can survive or defend against all attacks, but it means that if you are compromised, you have a plan that lets us recover quickly after a breach and continue to function. Deepfakes and other offshoots of AI will require businesses to create a transparent, agile, and holistic detection approach to protect endpoints, data, apps, and cloud services.

Q: What topic(s) do you think will play an important role at this year’s RSAC? 

Samani – I anticipate Zero Trust will play a prominent role, considering the year of remote working, and a myriad of significant threats being realised. 

Fokker – Definitely Zero-Trust but also combatting threats that come with working from home, and threat intelligence so organization can better understand the actions of their adversaries even before they step into the ring.

Q: What are you hoping to get out of RSAC this year and what do you want your attendees to take away from your session?

Howitt – I am hoping to see how others have adapted to life with COVID and now that it is receding, what do they think life with look like after.  As for my session, I want to highlight the importance of adaptability and stress that this paradigm shift means we will never go back to normal.

Q: What led you to pursue a career in cybersecurity, and what makes you stay in the industry?

House – Cybersecurity is not a career path I ever imagined for myself. As a student I always enjoyed math and computer science and I naturally gravitated toward those topics. My love of both subjects led me to pursue data science and machine learning. My first job out of college was in the cybersecurity industry and that was my first introduction to this career. Since then, I have loved how cybersecurity requires constant innovation and creative ways of using AI to stop new threats.

Mathews – My background and Ph.D. focused on developing novel dictionary learning and deep learning algorithms for classification tasks related to remote health monitoring systems (e.g., activity recognition for wearable sensors and heartbeat classification). With a background in machine learning, deep learning with applications to computer vision areas, I  entered the field of cybersecurity during my work at Intel Security/Mcafee in 2016.  I contributed towards increasing the effectiveness of cybersecurity products by creating novel machine learning/deep learning models to detect advanced threats(e.g., ransomware & steganography). In my industry work experience, I also had a chance to develop leading-edge research such as eXplainable A.I. (XAI) and deepfakes.   Overall, the advent of artificial intelligence can be considered a significant milestone as A.I. is steadily flooding several industries. However, A.I. platforms can also be misused if in the wrong hands, and as research professionals, we need to step up to detect attacks or mishaps before they happen. I feel deeply passionate about XAI, ethical A.I., the opportunity to combat deepfakes and digital misinformation, and topics related to ML and DL with cybersecurity applications. Overall, it is an excellent feeling as a researcher to use your knowledge to combat threats that affect humanity and safeguard humans.  Also, I believe that newer A.I. research topics such as GANs, Reinforcement learning, and few-shot learning have a lot to offer to combat advanced cybersecurity threats.

Q: Follow-up: What can women bring to the cybersecurity table?

House – I am fortunate to work with a lot of great women in technology at McAfee. Not only are these women on the cutting edge of innovation but they are also great mentors and leaders. We need more smart people pursuing jobs in this industry and in order to recruit new talent, especially young graduates, we need to mentor and encourage them to pursue this career. Every woman I have met in this industry wants to see new talent succeed and will go the extra mile to provide mentorship. I have also noticed women tend to have unique backgrounds in this industry. For example, some of the women I look up to have degrees in biomedical engineering or physics. These unique backgrounds allow these women to bring innovative ideas from outside cybersecurity to solve some of the toughest problems in the cybersecurity industry. We need more talent from diverse backgrounds to bring in fresh ideas.

McAfee is a proud platinum with keynote level sponsor of RSA Conference 2021. Take in the McAfee virtual booth and sessions presented by McAfee industry leaders Here are some of the best ways to catch McAfee at RSA. Can’t wait to see you there!

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