2022 Cybersecurity Events. PHOTO: Cybercrime Magazine.

Pandemic Disrupts 2022 Cybersecurity Events

Key conferences rescheduled, virtualized, or cancelled as COVID-19 surges

David Braue

Melbourne, Australia – Jan. 8, 2022

The last-minute withdrawals of numerous major exhibitors from this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) left the vastly reduced crowd with an unprecedented view of something that is normally in short supply at the massive year-starting event: the floor.

Whether due to enforced social distancing or reduced numbers, the decisions of Microsoft, Twitter, Meta, Amazon, T-Mobile and Pinterest to pull their representation at the bellwether event — joining the likes of Intel and Google, AMD and MSI, and BMW and Mercedes — turned the year’s first major tech conference into a bucket of cold water on the ambitions of an industry that was hoping 2022 would herald the resumption of face-to-face conferences.

“CES will and must go on,” Gary Shapiro, CEO of organizing group the Consumer Tech Association (CTA), wrote in explaining the decision to continue a conference that he said was essential to supporting the “thousands of smaller companies, entrepreneurs and innovators who have made investments in building their exhibits and are counting on CES for their business, inspiration and future.”

The event “will and must go on,” he said, citing the organizers’ “[mindfulness] of concerns that CES could be an event where the omicron variant can spread” and insistence that attendees be masked and vaccinated.

This year’s show, he said, “will have many more small companies than large ones. It may have big gaps on the show floor…. It may be messy. But innovation is messy. It is risky and uncomfortable.”

Cybercrime Radio: RSA Conference USA is rescheduled

World’s largest cybersecurity event will take place in June 2022

Fleeing the winter surge

Yet even as the CTA redoubled its focus on CES 2022’s companion virtual event, organizers of other later events were calling time as an explosion of coronavirus cases puts the world on edge once again.

Just before Christmastime the RSA Conference, originally scheduled for the second week of February, was pushed back to June as the omicron coronavirus variant continued its unchecked spread.

And ShmooCon, the security think tank’s annual event originally scheduled for January 14-16, was rescheduled to late March with just two weeks’ notice — reflecting the uncertainty caused by what Shmoo Group’s Heidi Potter called the “striking” spread of the “beast” that is omicron.

“We had already (reluctantly) accepted that COVID is part of our new normal and that finding ways to host events safely in light of COVID is not going away any time soon,” she wrote in announcing the change. “Unfortunately, caseloads continue to rise, it appears that the winter peak will fall right on top of the January con dates, and things just aren’t looking good.”

“Infection rates in DC are very high, some of the highest in the country,” she wrote. “Bringing people into the city right now just isn’t smart.”

Faced with an omicron surge so severe that The Netherlands was recently pushed into another lockdown, Cisco recently made what it called the “difficult decision” to cancel its Cisco Live Amsterdam event, which was scheduled for February, and will focus on a hybrid live and virtual event in Las Vegas in June.

With a packed roster of tech events in coming months, conference organizers are watching the situation and adjusting plans based on their own risk tolerances.

Gartner’s planned in-person Security & Risk Management Summit, to be held in mid-February in Dubai, has been converted into a virtual-only event but its March Identity & Access Management Summit was still being advertised as face-to-face as of press time.

Tech-industry bellwether Mobile World Congress is still set to happen in Barcelona in late February under the auspices of what organizers called a “multi-layered safety approach.” And Informa, organizer of the Black Hat conferences, is still listing its Asian events in May, USA event in August, and European event in December.

Others are pushing forward with hybrid strategies. A “thoughtful and deliberate” SANS Institute, for example, will still host its live Cyber Threat Intelligence Training in McLean, Virginia, during the first week of February and says that it is “working closely with the event venue to apply the greatest safety measures and highest standards of cleanliness for our in-person attendees” but is also offering the event online.

Into another uncertain year

With a slew of other security-related conferences planned in coming months, organizers will be on edge — and attendees must be aware of the possibility that face-to-face events will be cancelled or rescheduled on short notice.

It’s hardly the shot in the arm that the industry needed after two tough years that have seen massive financial losses for an industry that last year struggled to right itself after disruption that slashed conference revenues by over 70 percent in 2020.

Late last year, global exhibition industry peak body UFI noted that demand for events had continued, with “the impact of the pandemic on spend has been far less severe than feared” and CEO Kai Hattendorf noting there were “plenty of reasons for optimism, including quelling doubts about a possible shift away from live events.”

But that was before omicron reared its head — and with cases now surging and no sign that omicron will abate any time soon, it’s already clear that 2022 will require the same tolerance for change and flexibility that 2021 and 2020 have.

Whether the coronavirus situation will be good enough in June to enable a face-to-face RSA event, for example, is anybody’s guess.

In the meantime, it’s business as usual in what has become the new normal.

If you’re booked to attend an event, watch the organizers’ website and social media accounts for verification of their plans either way.

Seek out alternative ways of keeping in touch with peers, either through online forums and chats or with regular videoconferencing sessions.

Continue to read extensively, staying on top of cybersecurity news through the many channels available online so you don’t miss out on new threats.

These continue to be trying times, and 2022’s rocky start has made it clear that we are still far from the days when conferences can be carefree, face-to-face events as in the past.

Throughout all the disruption this year, look after your health and the health of those around you — including mental health. Each of us handles the stresses of the pandemic differently — and without the camaraderie that conferences provide, each and every one of us must think differently to find support any way we can.

– David Braue is an award-winning technology writer based in Melbourne, Australia.

Go here to read all of David’s Cybercrime Magazine articles.