The Cybersecurity World Strives To Fill The Void Of Large Conferences And Events
I should be in Las Vegas right now at the Black Hat security conference—known affectionately in cybersecurity circles as “Hacker Summer Camp”. I had it penciled in on my calendar since this time last year, but the COVID-19 pandemic derailed the plan. Now, cybersecurity vendors who had planned to attend the event have to find creative ways to reach the media and prospective customers they would normally meet and speak to at the conference.
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Black Hat is still going on this week, but it is being conducted virtually. There are keynotes and breakout sessions being streamed over the internet. Black Hat has done an admirable job of taking an event that typically attracts tens of thousands of cybersecurity professionals and customers and shifting to a virtual model in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Black Hat is not alone, either. Microsoft recently held its Inspire conference virtually, AWS has announced that its annual re:Invent conference will be virtual, and many other tech and cybersecurity conferences are following the same game plan.
As the conferences themselves work to provide similar value for both vendors and participants in a virtual format, some vendors are also looking at creative alternatives to try and fill the void. McAfee is scheduling virtual briefings with media this week—taking the place of the in-person meetings that would normally happen in Las Vegas—and at least one PR company is working diligently to find innovative ways to spotlight clients and engage the media in spite of not being able to meet face-to-face at Black Hat.
Highwire PR conducted a series of virtual panel discussions last week, and also facilitated a virtual trivia game happy hour event. “We have known most of these security reporters for years and they always tell us how much they appreciate and value the deep discussions and side conversations that occur naturally at this show,” explained Chirstine Elswick, cybersecurity practice lead at Highwire PR. “To recreate that serendipity, we organized three diverse panels of experts to get candid insights on the topics of Election Security, Future of Work and Cloud Security. Early feedback from our clients and reporters has been extremely positive and no one got lost navigating the dark halls of a Vegas casino.”
The virtual panel discussions were very good. The panelists were engaging and provided thoughts and commentary on the different topics. Each panel discussion included a respected moderator and a select group of media by invitation only, which made the event more intimate and conversational. I attended all three of the virtual panel discussions and wrote about the events. I heard from a variety of experts and gained valuable insight on cloud and security challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic, issues surrounding the crucially important subject of election security, and how the pandemic and the shift to an almost entirely remote work-from-home workforce will impact the future of work.
Intel held a solo event, facilitated by Highwire PR. In an effort to create an environment similar to a party at Black Hat, drinks and snacks were shipped to media attendees ahead of time. We participated in an exciting game of technology and cybersecurity trivia (I was in the lead for a while but failed the last three questions and dropped to third place in the end). We also got to hear from Intel executives and had an opportunity to ask questions.
I would rather be in Las Vegas. I would prefer that we didn’t have to deal with COVID-19 at all, or at least that the United States wasn’t failing so hard at responding to the pandemic that it is exponentially worse than it should have been and we might have been able to resume some sense of normalcy by now. But, that is not the reality we live in.
In the absence of attending conferences in person, I appreciate that events like Black Hat and Microsoft Inspire and AWS re:Invent are being presented virtually. We can still get much of the same information and training that we would if we were physically there in the room. But, these virtual sessions with vendors are where the real value lies—at least for me. They are more intimate and still allow for face-to-face interaction—albeit virtual.
With each of these virtual sessions—whether it’s the McAfee briefing, the Highwire PR virtual panels, or the Intel trivia game happy hour, I got a little bit of that personal interaction and relationship building that I am really missing this week. The COVID-19 pandemic is not easy on anyone, and I respect that the large conferences are doing what they can, but I really appreciate the vendors who are thinking outside of the box and adapting to the reality of the pandemic quarantine with innovative ways to fill the void.