Cybersecurity, AI and Alicia Keys: What We’ve Seen at the RSA Conference – CNET

From the hundreds of panels and talks to the often quirky expo floor displays, artificial intelligence and its potential impact on the cybersecurity industry is the topic of choice at this year’s RSA Conference in San Francisco.

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Tens of thousands of data security professionals, business moguls, educators, government leaders, privacy advocates and others descended on the city’s Moscone Center to check out the latest in cybersecurity tech and trends. About 650 people are slated to speak during more than 400 panels, talks and other sessions before it wraps Thursday afternoon.

Here’s a look at what’s going on right now:

That’s a wrap: Alicia Keys brings down the house

May 9, 2024 at 2:50 p.m. PT

What does a 16-time Grammy award winner have to do with cybersecurity? Not much, but a mini Alicia Keys concert was a spectacular way to close out this year’s RSA Conference.

In one of the most entertaining closing keynotes in the conference’s recent history, Keys performed some of her greatest hits, including If I Ain’t Got You and New York State of Mind, along with a cover of the Eurythmics song Sweet Dreams, to a packed room. 

While the RSA Conference is generally focused on the cybersecurity industry, its closing keynotes often stray into the world of entertainment. Recent performers have included comedian Seth Meyers and magicians Penn and Teller. 

Alicia Keys singing at the RSA Conference 2024 keynote

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Keys, whose Broadway musical Hell’s Kitchen is currently up for 13 Tony nominations, was backed by a small band of musicians, but filled the stage with an amazing vocal performance. 

While reactions among the massive crowd of cybersecurity professionals and other attendees ranged from sitting quietly to dancing in the aisles, most people were on their feet by the end of the set. And even those seated far in the back held their phones over their heads in attempts to snag a picture or some video.

Intermission: Ted Lasso’s creator talks positivity

May 8, 2024 at 11:30 a.m. PT

The character of Ted Lasso and his seemingly unflappable positive attitude was in part a response to the increasingly mean and snarky tone TV sitcom characters were taking in the years leading up to the show’s creation, Lasso’s creator, Jason Sudeikis, told RSA attendees on Wednesday.

During a morning keynote, Sudeikis told a packed convention hall how the character of Lasso came to be and about the impact it’s since had on TV and society.

The story of a seemingly unqualified American football coach who moves to England to lead a British soccer team was originally created back in 2013 to promote NBC Sports broadcasts of British Premier League soccer.

Photo of Jason Sudeikis on stage at RSA

Jason Sudeikis talks about the origins of Ted Lasso.

Bree Fowler/CNET

Back then, Lasso’s character was funny, but he wasn’t the overly kind and positive guy fans of the Apple TV Plus show have come to love, Sudeikis said. It was years later that he realized that the character could be a contrast to TV characters he saw as ignorant but arrogant.

“I was much more interested in someone that was ignorant but curious,” Sudeikis said, adding that too often sitcom characters get laughs by saying mean things that are played off as OK, when in real life we know otherwise.

Many fans of the show, which first hit screens during the COVID-19 pandemic when many people needed a mental pick-me-up, say watching it just makes them feel better. While not everything that happens during its episodes are happy things, there is an underlying tone of hope and positivity that always endures.

And few things symbolize that better than the handmade “Believe” sign that hangs over Lasso’s office throughout the series’ run. Sudeikis, who came up with the idea for the sign, said he’s seen copies of it posted everywhere from the White House to classrooms to children’s cancer wards.

“I’m amazed at the response to that sign,” Sudeikis said. “It’s been truly humbling and profound.”

A safe and secure rollout of AI is key for critical infrastructure, Mayorkas says

May 7, 2024 at 8:30 a.m.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas says his agency is focused on working with the tech industry to make sure that AI is implemented in ways that protects the rights and safety of Americans, as well as preserves the critical infrastructure that runs the country.

Speaking during a morning RSA keynote and later at a roundtable discussion with journalists, Mayorkas said he’s optimistic about what could be accomplished by the recently formed AI safety board.

The group, which is headed by Mayorkas and which met for the first time on Monday, will advise the federal government how to best protect the country’s most critical services from AI-related attacks. 

It brings together government and the tech companies at the forefront of AI development like Google, Microsoft and OpenAI, along with executives from critical infrastructure-related companies like Delta Airlines and Northrop Grumman and civil and privacy rights leaders.

The goals for the group are to eventually establish guidelines for the safe and secure implementation of AI and create a national plan, he said.

As part of the effort, the federal government is recruiting an army of tech experts and other people with AI-related skills to come work for the federal government. While Mayorkas admits he can’t compete with big tech when it comes to pay checks, thousands of people have already applied.

“The voice that one has in public service is a voice that is a representative one and it’s representative of millions of millions of people,” Mayorkas said, noting that the decisions public servants make also impact millions of people. 

“It is an awesome responsibility and an awesome opportunity.”

Tech and security need to play a leading role in diplomacy, Blinken says

May 6, 2024 at 3:55 p.m. PT

RSA 2024 Secretary Blinken on stage

Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the RSA Conference Monday in San Francisco.

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As the distinction between the digital and physical worlds continues to erode, the role of technology and its security is becoming an increasingly critical part of global diplomacy, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

“Security, stability and prosperity are no longer solely analog matters,” Blinken said during his RSA Conference keynote, adding that the choices that security professionals make today “will reverberate for generations.”

Anthony Blinken speaking at RSA 2024

Bree Fowler/CNET

In a wide-ranging address, Blinken spoke about the need for the US to be a leader in everything from semiconductor production and training a high-tech workforce to setting development rules for cutting-edge technologies like AI and quantum computing.

He noted that if a potentially dangerous technology like genomic surveillance were to be dominated by America’s rivals, its abuse could become commonplace, causing irreversible damage.

Blinken also said that the furthering and protection of democracy around the world will continue to hinge on the involvement of American tech companies, especially those in the security industry. He pointed to the help given to Ukraine by many US companies in hardening their networks and bolstering their communications ahead of and after Russia’s invasion of the country.

The legacy of WarGames

May 6, 2024 at 3 p.m. PT

Matthew Broderick speaking at RSA 2024

Bree Fowler/CNET

Monday’s afternoon keynotes kicked off with a surprise appearance by actor Matthew Broderick, who notably played a teenage hacker in the 1980s cult classic WarGames. 

Broderick said that the plot of the movie, in which his character accidentally hacked into a military supercomputer while searching for new video games, might seem ridiculous to today’s security experts, but it prompted then-President Ronald Reagan to call together members of his cabinet, Congress and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to talk about whether something like that could actually happen.

What Reagan discovered was that the problem was much worse than that, Broderick said. And, eventually, Reagan’s interest in the film is credited with helping enact the first presidential directive on computer security. 

Matthew Broderick on stage speaking at RSA Conference 2024

Loren Elliott/Getty Images

We’ll be updating this story with more coverage from RSA throughout the week.

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