RSA Conference 2024: All About AI

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.

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:

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 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

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

Loren Elliott/Getty Images

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.”

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

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. 

Loren Elliott/Getty Images

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

Editors’ note: CNET used an AI engine to help create several dozen stories, which are labeled accordingly. The note you’re reading is attached to articles that deal substantively with the topic of AI but are created entirely by our expert editors and writers. For more, see our AI policy.

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