Written by Paola Garcia Cardenas*
Edited by Kacy Zurkus
What is an RSAC Security Scholar?
RSAC Security Scholars are students (undergraduate and graduate level) enrolled in universities in the United States who have been nominated by their schools to represent them at the annual RSA Conference in San Francisco.
As RSAC Security Scholars, students participate in exclusive activities with fellow scholars, have VIP seating at the opening keynote, network with program sponsors and attend an exclusive dinner with leading experts in cybersecurity. RSAC Security Scholars are issued Full Conference badges. They have access to the expo floor and all of the activities available at Conference—including keynotes, sessions, labs, RSAC Sandbox and more—a once-in-a-lifetime experience that would be hard to find anywhere else.
Part of the RSAC 2020 experience included a luncheon with industry partners. During this activity, we had the opportunity to discuss a variety of topics in cybersecurity, from healthcare and entrepreneurship, to politics and voting machines. I had the pleasure of engaging in some interesting discussions with Maggie MacAlpine, Project Manager / Co-Founder at Nordic Innovation Labs. Additional experts at other tables included Zee Abdelnabi, Linda Gray Martin, Gen. Keith Alexander (Ret.), Ted Harrington, Nina Alli, Ash Kulkarni, Robert Lee, Cecilia Marinier, Ally Lorentson Dunn, Christopher Painter, Theresa Payton and Hugh Thompson.
In addition, the scholars were invited to a dinner with top industry leaders, giving us the opportunity to engage with others in the field.
RSAC 2020 Security Scholar Dinner with Top Industry Leaders
Sitting down with not only one or two but three top industry leaders to have a discussion over dinner (and wine) was one of the most memorable and valuable experiences I’ve had.
Bringing the Theme to Life
This year’s Conference theme, the Human Element, was of particular interest to me. As RSAC Security Scholars, we had designated VIP seats about 20 rows from the main stage. The opening keynote with George Takei had sort of an outer-space touch, with unique ideas around the Human Element theme. In the words of Takei, “Every mind in this room works in its own unique way. Like fingerprints, no two brains are the same. Each thought is informed by your genetic disposition, and your environment, life experiences, race, gender, age, beliefs, brain chemistry. This exquisite diversity enables us to handle problems that might perplex us if we faced them alone.”
In addition to Takei, RSA President Rohit Ghai delivered an inspirational keynote. Ghai challenged the audience to think differently about culture, advising, “We need to rethink our culture and shift from a culture of elitism to a culture of inclusion. Expanding our talent pool, filling the talent gap, however you look at it, requires finding defenders outside the tech community. Let’s stop being STEM snobs.”
The RSAC Sandbox
The RSAC Sandbox was by far my favorite part of Conference. There was a lab, a stage for general sessions, hacking station villages—from healthcare devices, voting machines, airplanes and cars to everyday IoT devices used by millions of people around the world. I was able to exploit hardware devices (D-Link router and Wemo Smart Light) at the IoT Hacking 101 village station in The Sandbox. I really enjoyed the labs and learning sessions in the Sandbox, especially exploiting IoT devices such as a D-Link router and a Wemo Smart Light. The Sandbox is a MUST-visit for anyone who enjoys hands-on activities at RSA Conference.
*This blog has been modified from its original version, which was posted on Medium.