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RSA Conference 2021 preview: Everything we expect to see

RSA 2021 preview
(Image credit: ranjith ravindran/Shutterstock)

This year's RSA Conference kicks off this coming Monday (May 17). Unlike last year's conference, which was one of the last big American tech shows to happen in person before the COVID-19 lockdown, this one will be entirely virtual. 

We won't be traveling to San Francisco to attend RSA this year, but will instead stream the presentations at home in New York. There's still plenty to see — RSA has two dozen different "tracks" and nearly all of them will have presentations going on at the same time.

The bulk of RSA talks these days have to do with enterprise security, since all-access passes to the conference can cost a couple of thousand dollars. (Prices have been cut roughly in half this year.) 

However, we're not interested in cloud-threat modeling, cybersecurity metrics development or defensible architecture. Those are all worthy topics, but Tom's Guide is focused on consumer security.

Yet even within those parameters, there is just so much going on at RSA that we're having trouble fitting what we want to see into our schedule. We hope that the talks will be available online for some time after they're presented so that we can go back and stream the ones we miss.

Here's what we're looking forward to seeing, grouped into somewhat arbitrary categories.

RSA 2021 preview: Disinformation and election security

The security of electronic voting machines has been a top issue at information-security conferences for many years, and the issue of political disinformation got big after the 2016 presidential election. 

Fortalice CEO Theresa Payton, author of "Manipulated: Inside the Cyberwar to Hijack Elections and Distort the Truth" will deliver a keynote address Monday on political disinformation and how to combat it. On Tuesday, three experts will present "Responding to Disinformation and Influence Campaigns," which promises to cover a lot of similar ground, but we're still down for it. 

Thursday sees a four-expert panel discussion on election security, followed by a panel discussion on political misinformation

To tie it all together and then some, President Biden's cybersecurity advisor, Anne Neuberger, will be delivering a keynote address Tuesday morning with the title "Cybersecurity as a National Imperative."

RSA 2021 preview: Ransomware

Neuberger will doubtless have something to say about ransomware, given the attack on the Colonial Pipeline company last week that has led to fuel shortages in the Southeast. 

But lots of ransomware talks were already on the RSA 2021 agenda, as the past year has seen a huge increase in the number of ransomware attacks upon American companies and other enterprises.

We'll be viewing a talk Tuesday afternoon reviewing the ransomware "threat landscape," infosec talk for what you can expect to find out there. That's followed by a different talk Thursday that will extend the map of the, um, threat landscape.

RSA 2021 preview: Data collection, surveillance and privacy

In this age of massive data collection by Google, Facebook and other online companies, a Texas law professor on Wednesday will be asking the simple question "Who owns your data?" We can bet that there won't be a simple answer.

The COVID-19 pandemic coupled with advancing technology "created the perfect storm for eroding global privacy," two researchers will argue later on Wednesday. They plan to examine the rise of global surveillance in 2020, as well as its impact in the United States and China. 

We suspect the talk will make us feel much better. A panel discussion later Wednesday will examine what it calls "the lasting effect of the COVID pandemic on privacy." 

Also on Wednesday, several panelists, including our own opinion contributor Melanie Ensign, will discuss the rise of "privacy tech" and how it relates to cybersecurity

"Privacy tech" broadly refers to any kind of technology that enhances personal privacy rather than chips away at it, such as encrypted messaging apps or the Tor web protocol, though it can get a lot more abstract than those examples. Honestly, we'd sort of given up expecting any kind of privacy in this ridiculously wired world, so this should be interesting.

There's not much privacy if you're recognized everywhere you go, which is why "adversarial technology" has sprung up to defeat facial-recognition systems. A Tuesday talk called "New Face, Who Dis?" will go over the latest ways to fool security cameras and promises to introduce a new tool to defeat facial recognition.

Along similar lines, ESET researcher Lukas Stefanko is presenting a talk on Android stalkerware, which comes in many different strains and which can be used to spy on spouses, partners and employees. 

If you're worried about your privacy and security while traveling, two Kaspersky researchers will be presenting a "traveler's protection guide" Wednesday morning, focusing on "straightforward and low-tech solutions" that will "help protect travelers and their devices while on the road."

RSA 2021 preview: Everything else

Finally, there are several talks that don't really fit into any grand theme. Since we review (and use) several password managers, we're looking forward to a talk that questions whether password managers are making people any smarter about using passwords. 

Meanwhile, our friends at Bitdefender will be running down the past few years' worth of security flaws, and security fixes, in Internet of Things and smart-home devices.

There's a talk about how quantum computing will break the RSA encryption standard after which the RSA Conference is named, and another (at the same time, alas) that walks us through how credit-card thieves infect retail websites.

Another presentation examines how Discord has become the default communication medium of "Generation Z" hackers. The irresistibly titled "His Power Level is Over 9000!" plans to look at security flaws in solar-panel controllers. 

There's one talk just named "Can Cryptocurrency Conquer the World?", but it seems to be already full. Maybe we can use bitcoin and bribe a tech bro to let us in. 

We'll probably instead go across the virtual hall and check out a concurrent talk called "WarezTheRemote? Under the Couch, and Listening to You", which is about spying on people through their TV remotes. Cool!