When one of the world's leading information security conferences, the RSA conference, announced its keynote speakers in February, professionals from across the industry flocked to Twitter. With the exception of Monica Lewinsky, who was going to give a talk entitled "The Price of Shame," each keynote speaker was a man.
Five days after a tweet from Alex Stamos, current director of information security on Facebook, suggesting it was time to start an "alternative conference", a group of organizers spread across the country announced Our Security Advocates, or OurSA 2018, a one-day alternative conference that takes place today in San Francisco. (A live broadcast will also be available).
Maybe it's time to rent the Metreon again for an alternative conference, this time all the women who talk (with me handing out popcorn). Someone plays? – Alex Stamos (@alexstamos) February 27, 2018
One of the organizers of OurSA is Parisa Tabriz, a top security engineer at Google whose official title (chosen by himself) is "Princess of security". "We are tired of the same old pieces," he told me over the phone.
The most diverse voices, said Tabriz, are vital for the security industry, in particular, since the different backgrounds present radically different perspectives on privacy and security. "As a woman of immigrant origin, with a Polish Catholic mother and an Iranian Muslim father, I can appreciate how people from different cultures and ethnicities face different security risks," he said. "It is important that we build products that can keep everyone safe."
When RSA's list of conferences was first announced, the social media frenzy grew so much that even Monica Lewinsky intervened, giving a statement to USA Today, saying she was "disappointed in this oversight" and had addressed the problem with the conference organizers. Lewinsky said he believed they were going to rectify the problem by the time the conference turned around in April.
In fact, in the weeks since then, the RSA conference has added several women to its agenda, including the Secretary of the Department of National Security, Kirstjen Nielsen. In an email to The Verge, the vice president of the RSA conference, Sandra Toms, said that this was not due to any protest from social networks. Rather, the previous list of main notes was not "definitive", and they still expected to hear from some speakers. "Previous discussions about our main alignment were premature," he wrote.
"Finding speakers with diverse voices is not an insurmountable task"
But the industry did not want to wait until April to see a new and improved alignment of RSA. That's when Stamos tweeted: "Maybe it's time to rent the Metreon again for an alternative conference, this time all the women who talk."
Four years earlier, Stamos helped organize TrustyCon 2014, the alternative conference that arose in response to a Reuters report based on Snowden documents suggesting that RSA, the security company that runs the RSA conference, had endorsed a product for the Agency. of National Security. . Speakers withdrew from RSA in protest and spoke at TrustyCon instead.
Alex Stamos' dishonest tweet generated a flurry of discussion behind the scenes. The lack of diversity in the main RSA conferences had already spawned several lists of prominent women in the security world, many of whom were ready and willing to speak at an alternative conference. Five days later, the organizers announced OurSA, and the event ran out in less than 12 hours.
OurSA does not only have women who speak, but the agenda is overwhelmingly full of women. All speakers, says Tabriz, belong to a minority underrepresented in the industry.
Tabriz expressed surprise at how quickly the event had come together. His fellow organizers – Amie Stepanovich (Access now), Adrienne Porter Felt (Google), Mark Risher (Google), Alex Stamos (Facebook), Aanchal Gupta (Facebook), Kelly Lum (Spotify) and Melanie Ensign (Uber) – were fine connected in the industry, but far from the organizers of professional events. But the demand of the event was palpable.
Everyone seemed to want to work with them, not only with potential speakers, but also with sponsors, who in some cases pledged their support before the organizers presented the official sponsorship packages.
"It was quite frantic, but it was not hard to find a day full of speakers either," Tabriz said. Among the eight, the organizers knew some of the best and brightest potential speakers to invite to your event. But they also put in a form for the presentations, and in a couple of days, they had more than a hundred presentations to review. Tabriz expressed her enthusiasm for some of the new voices that she herself had not known about until she helped organize OurSA. The alternative conference, it seems, is as much a matter of diversifying its own perspective as of raising a broader point about the lack of diversity in technology conferences in general.
In addition to engineers, OurSA's alignment includes legislators, lawyers, activists and journalists. (Kara Swisher, executive editor of Recode, which is owned by Vox Media, is moderator of the panel). Some of the talks, such as "Gender, bias and violence in security research and design", specifically address gender. But, like many, there are technical engineering talks on everything from "Modern DDoS Trends" to "Memory Security" by engineers who come from underrepresented environments.
"My hope with OurSA is that we can help other conference organizers recognize that finding speakers with diverse voices is not an insurmountable task," Tabriz said.
In some circles, OurSA is already eclipsing the conference from which it is moving away. "OurSA seems to be the place to be," an RSA speaker tweeted when two of his friends confirmed on Twitter that they would miss their talk to attend OurSA.