Renaissance Cyber Expo and Conference 2020: now that’s a wrap

Coronavirus meant that this year’s Cyber Data and Compliance Expo was a strictly online affair, but organisers Renaissance managed to turn a drawback into a strength

Michael Conway, director, Renaissance

It’s one thing to host an online conference – but to surpass the physical event, let alone match it, is something this year’s Cyber Data and Compliance Expo and conference achieved.

Run and hosted by Renaissance, the event in previous years took place in the Irish Management Institute, but current Covid-19 restrictions meant that Renaissance had the huge task of bringing the same qualities to the small screen with all the challenges of matching the feel of a physical conference!

However, seeing this as an opportunity to take advantage of the benefits a virtual event offers – such as global speakers and participants without the need to travel – and using their experiences of previous virtual events, Renaissance certainly provided something for everyone.

What the 500-plus attendees found on Tuesday, November 24 was not only the usual collection of cyber experts, global vendors and local specialist service providers but small additions that made the event more than the sum of its parts.

That was how director of Renaissance Michael Conway felt the day after the event, highlighting that the feedback to it was “universally positive.”

“Running a virtual event is massively more challenging than a physical event, and the resource and effort is huge,” he said. “Renaissance is delighted that the investment in the platform made this event as close as was possible to the physical event.”

“This is a dynamic area and it’s crucial that everybody – those in the marketplace, the business leaders, IT departments and end-users – are brought along. That’s why we brought such expertise to the Expo to speak.”

One big reason for this was being able to source expertise without travel becoming a factor. This meant that Renaissance had a wider pool of speakers, panel facilitators, and vendors to choose from and it took full advantage of that.

Getting a set of specialists from around the globe was a key feature of this year’s expo, with speakers, vendors and service providers from all around the world attending. Conway said that while organising it has been a huge undertaking with many challenges, the end result was worth it.

“The cost of a virtual event like this far outweighs a physical one, but ultimately we provided an excellent opportunity for our cyber ecosystem to come together in a unique way.”

The event’s keynote was delivered by Paul C Dwyer, chief executive of Cyber Risk International, who is recognised as one of the world’s foremost experts in cybersecurity, risk and privacy.

His talk set the tone for the day’s business thought leadership sessions which covered nine key cybersecurity topics, each moderated by an industry leader.

They included Identity and Rights Management with Anthony Mornet, Managing Director of IAM Experts; Application Security with Gary Robinson, chief executive of Uleska; Business Email Compromise: is it who it seems with Alex Burnham, Director, IT Audit and Security of Mazars; Always on Computing with Sean Reynolds, chief executive of Rits Information Security, Managing the User with Dave Feenan, Innovation Programmes Manager for Skillnet.

The other panels included OT Cybersecurity with journalist and commentator Paul Hearns; Working with O365 with Executive Business Advisor Redmond O'Leary; The Subscription Economy: Consuming Cloud Services with the editor of Connected magazine Emmet Ryan, and I Am Who I Say I Am with Dr Vivienne Mee, founder of VM Group.

As the boundaries that traditionally separate tools and services fade away, and the surface area of attack increases as a result of people working from home, there was much to tackle throughout the day.

Dwyer immediately drew us in with ‘the elephant in the room’ – Covid-19 for those wondering – and how it’s changed the reality of cybersecurity. Specifically, its impact on cyber risk and the moral imperative that experts need to address in securing the ecosystem.

While the pandemic was a surprise, Dwyer said that in hindsight, it is something experts could have prepared for since security is based on ‘when’ rather than ‘if’.

He mentioned that in his preparation for the keynote, it reminded him of his early days 20 years ago and a particular training exercise he partook in.

“As a training exercise, we talked about pandemics, but it was almost something people wouldn’t relate to saying [that something like] the Spanish Flu will never happen again,” he said. “But the reality is these things happen and what happens in the physical world affects the cyber world and vice versa.”

That central message echoed throughout the other panel sessions with security being paramount to the future advancement of any company.

Dealing with the topic of Working with Office 365, its lead moderator Redmond O’Leary mentioned how important it was to ensure that your security settings are up to date. Just because you’re using a major product like Office 365 doesn’t mean the features you need are switched on automatically.

Even then, a major warning Dwyer had for businesses is that the risks facing businesses have changed because of Covid-19. One example being video conferencing, which is likely a Tier 1 concern for all companies now due to how much it’s relied on for communication and collaboration.

Even the area of OT security can be overlooked due to the machinery affected not being traditional desktops or mobile devices. Similarly, with Office 365 lead facilitator Paul Hearns said ahead of the conference how there is still a hangover from the days of OT machines not being connected, leading to potential security holes.

Tying into that, the topic of Application Security is also another area where security can be overlooked ahead of new features being implemented. Before the session, lead moderator Gary Robinson mentioned how software development has accelerated over the past five years but security hasn’t kept up.

Part of the challenge is taking this aspect and developing tools that help dovetail both app and security development so they’re working in tandem.

Set-up for success

The event is the north star for cybersecurity experts and businesses, featuring discussion and analysis around areas like risk, policy, and privacy. The general philosophy was followed: keep it simple and easy for the attendees to follow so they can dip in and out during their workday.

Part of that flexibility can be attributed to how the conference was set up. Upon signing in, they were greeted by a conference lobby layout highlighting important areas.

For one, you had access to the Auditorium – hosting the Keynote and the ten-minute vendor presentations running throughout the day; the three Conference rooms hosting nine different business stream sessions throughout the day.

The main exhibition Hall itself hosting 50 exhibitor booths; and the Networking Chat functionality where users/vendors and service providers could interact and engage one-on-one or in groups.

Within the exhibition hall, visiting a booth presents you with a vendor or service provider showcasing their solutions via video, documents, chat or live one-on-one meeting rooms.

A quaint tradition was supported virtually – there was an ‘I was here’ button where they could leave their contact details in a virtual fishbowl for any competitions.

On top of that, you had support desks and could learn more about the event’s two main sponsors, ICT Skillset and the Business Post. For easy access, the general menu bar giving you easy access to other areas of the conference should it be required.

While online conferences will never replace certain aspects of a physical event like seeing people face-to-face, it did bring with it other efficiencies, ensuring that all parties had a more streamlined experience.

During the run-up to the event, Conway mentioned that the big theme throughout the event structure was thought leadership.

It’s a place for businesses to hear and learn about best practices and keep abreast of the latest developments and processes out there.

With the ability to communicate knowledge, thoughts and ideas to vendors and other parties in a new way, the flexibility added a whole new dimension to the traditional conference format.

The new normal facing cybersecurity

The increased acceleration of the pandemic has caused years of work to be condensed into months and with the rules thrown out the window, it means businesses need to have the capabilities to both deals with challenges now and in the future.

“The new normal is today, and there’s another new normal tomorrow and another one the day after that so we have to deal with this now,” said Dwyer. “Assess where your risks are and deal with them.”

An obvious example of the challenges Covid-19 has brought up is people working from home. Dwyer cited a recent survey that found 90 per cent of people working from home have access to confidential information. The point was everyone has a role to play in ensuring that the current and future cybersecurity standards are up to scratch and keep things safe for all.

While both the panel discussions and keynote took up much of the attention on the day, a significant component of the event’s success was down to the vendors. Throughout the day, they contributed to the panel discussions and showcased their offerings in the exhibit hall.

Making up products and services ranging from email security to managing app security programmes in a single platform, the vendors on show covered a wide range of areas.

Conway mentioned how important this is as no business could possibly cover all areas on its own.

“With remote working and a lack of perimeters, you’ve challenges around identity and authentication,” he said. “The landscape is so vast that you need that expertise from vendors and service providers to help you along the way.”

For cloud services, you had Cyglass, specialising in SaaS-based anomaly detection, Webroot which uses cloud and machine learning to predict and protect against attacks, Bitdefender whose products are embedded in over 38 per cent of the world’s security solutions and Watchguard which makes enterprise-grade cybersecurity technology accessible for every company.

Identity and rights management had Entrust which is a global leader in identities, payments, and data protection, Forgerock which offers an identity platform-as-a-service, Ilantus which provides secure identity and access management as well as governance and administration, and Senhasegura, which focuses on Privileged Access Management (PAM).

Similarly, you have Ascertia which creates high-trust PKI (Public Key Infrastructure) and signing solutions, and finally nCipher (now Entrust) which offers cryptographic solutions.

For user management, Veriato, whose Cerebral platform creates behaviour analysis and employee monitoring software to allow, as well as Zyalin, which provides a network-level internet control platform for advanced web filtering, malicious detection and AI phishing, endpoint protector Cososys and cyber and ransomware protection specialists Bullwall.

In Business Email Compromise, you had AGARI, Redsift, Fraudwatch, and Censornet taking part while OT Technology brought together Claroty which improves the availability, safety, and reliability of OT environments and Acalvio, which provides Advanced Threat Defence solutions.

Application security brought together the likes of Veracode which helps manage entire app security program in a single platform and Checkmarx which specialises in app security testing. Office 365 had its own designation with vendors like cybersecurity monitoring service Bluedog, and Altaro which provides award-winning use solutions.

Finally, Always-On computing brought together Firstwave, Arcserve and Kemp together to round off the vendor list.

And that’s before you get to the service providers which consisted of Actionpoint, Codec, Cyber Prism, DNA IT, Evros, FutureRange, Infinite, Intuity, ITMS, ITUS, Leaf, NSSL, NTES, PAQIT, PFH, Qualcom, Strvye, and Unity.

The result was simple: no matter what your business needs where, there were numerous vendors and expertise to avail. One of the key benefits is that the Expo is the starting line for what can be productive relationships, a talk or discussion about one element of security can lead to a partnership that evolves and becomes stronger.

In the end, all businesses are acutely aware of the risks that face them and the Cyber Data and Compliance Expo and Conference came at a time where many are looking at how their current setup will hold out over the next 24 to 36 months.

Overall Conway said that he was delighted with the hugely positive feedback about the event, the platform and the organisation.

“Renaissance is delighted that we, through our vendor partners, were able to deliver this expertise and these experts at no cost to Irish businesses,” he said. “The amazing success of the expo and conference shows that there is a huge interest about cyber and the impact it can have on all of our lives.”

“We’re delighted to showcase leading global experts demonstrating leading technologies in the fight against the cyber bad guys and help us all. We hope that the event helps in some way to make us all cyber-safe and secure.”