RSA is around the corner which means tens of thousands of people will descend on Moscone Center in San Francisco, CA. Hundreds of innovative young companies will look for customers, props, and capital (especially at the Early Stage Expo!). Venture capitalists will look for opportunities to invest and find the next $1B IPO. Larger companies may well search for IP to complement larger platforms. CISOs will show up looking for solutions to todays problems, with an eye toward tomorrows, and ask two key questions: What in this expo hall will help me better protect my company? And, what can I take OUT of my portfolio in exchange?
Considering this, I contacted several VC and tech sector colleagues to test an assertion in my most recent blog, which stated that perhaps the kind of innovation were likely to see at RSA can offer too much of a good thing when it comes to CISOs priorities. Is the market ready for all this innovation? Are there enough dollars available? Is the innovation meeting CISOs real needs?
Looking at the exhibitor list, and searching by core topic, its going to be exciting, yet challenging, to determine which companies are truly innovating and competitive in these crowded marketplaces. A quick look also tells us where most of the attention is, and where it isnt. The Analytics, Intelligence and Response, and Machine Learning categories turn up hundreds of companies, as expected due to all the financial support into, and buzz around, these fields. We should expect to see many claims of best-in-class cyber defense products. However, I suspect there is growing skepticism about vendors claims to have the best ML/AI-driven 0-day finder. I encourage vendors to be prepared to articulate the real true capabilities of the ML and AI engines that drive your solutions: By what standards can we evaluate the strength of algorithms and engines? Can they scale, integrate into, and play nice with a customers existing toolset? No doubt, ML and AI will continue to improve and become more central to security, but early innovations here have probably created what one contact called a swarm effect that has promoted the rise of duplicative technologies. Vendors should also be aware there are probably too many companies chasing too few CISO dollars, and there is bound to be consolidation. On the investor side, I suspect ML/AI fatigue is setting in. A few VCs have said theyre pretty much done putting money into this area until it shakes out.
Perhaps CISOs can nudge the security and investor communities into using ML and AI to develop more foundational preventative solutions. These might include more secure-by-design hardware and software architectures, self-aware and self-healing systems, and smart-configuration and smart-patching solutions. One CTO colleague relayed that hes seen excellent presentations and proposals on self-healing computational models and systems, but unfortunately few VC-funded companies are moving beyond research into development and commercialization, partly because so much attention is on APT-hunting shiny objects. Until the community is incentivized to move into these areas, the current assume breach detect-and-respond model will dominate how cybersecurity is practiced and commercialized.
As another example, look at blockchain and cryptocurrency, two leading-edge investment areas. Is commensurate work being done to update the underlying cryptographic algorithms and protocols that date back to 1982? Quantum-resilient crypto and homomorphic encryption technologies are areas that probably havent received the level of financial support they deserve, outside of DARPA or other government programs.
Getting back to CISOs priorities, the consistent theme was how to make the best use of people and existing tools:
I support many public sector CISO teams in the US and Europe. What do I think theyll be looking for at RSA? With an eye on ML/AI innovation, I think theyll be just as interested in tools that offer improvements to the messy hygiene work of security: automated and self-learning configuration, inventory analysis and update management tools, and for anything that helps their people improve how they manage their responsibilities. Given uncertain budgeting and the continual need to maintain and adhere to compliance mandates, theyll also look for solutions that help improve and speed up the path to staying as green as possible on a scorecard. Perhaps the excitement around advanced sciences and big data will dominate the RSA agenda, but I expect and encourage CISOs to push innovators for solutions that get to the core of their day to day challenges.
If youre an investor, or if youre an innovator looking for what could be next years breakout opportunity, think about investing in the people who will deliver on your goals.