Record Attendance Expected at RSA Conference

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Organizers of the 2005 RSA Conference, which opens today in San Francisco, expect a record number of attendees and exhibitors, underscoring the increased interest in computer security and security technology.

A number of factors are driving interest in the show, including appearances by high-profile executives and new regulations that make computer security a pressing issue for many corporate executives.

New threats like phishing attacks and new kinds of spyware also point to why the conference continues to grow. Unlike other technology areas, the challenges and battle lines constantly shift in computer security, as malicious hackers and online criminals change their strategies to adjust to new developments, forcing IT companies to respond, according to Charles Kolodgy, an analyst with research firm IDC. He suggested that the bigger crowds are evidence that computer security is an issue that has barged into corporate boardrooms and into the mainstream.

"It has definitely become a high-profile issue," Kolodgy said. "You're hearing about a lot more executives who are involved (in computer security) and wondering what's going on.

Consumers, also, are hearing a lot more about computer security issues and even coming face to face with online threats, as a result of rampant online threats such as "phishing"--online identity-theft scams that target online-banking and retail customers, he said.

Heavy Hitters

Microsoft Chair and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates will deliver the show's opening keynote address, his second such speech at RSA. Other high-profile executives are making their first appearances at the show, including Cisco Systems President and Chief Executive Officer John Chambers, who is scheduled to speak Wednesday, and Symantec CEO John Thompson, who will speak tomorrow.

Gates is expected to give his perspective on computer security and provide an update on Microsoft's progress in securing its software applications and operating system, including plans for its recent acquisitions of antispyware company Giant Company Software and server antivirus vendor Sybari Software.

Chambers will discuss Cisco's "architectural" approach to security and the company's vision of an intelligent information network.

HP will demonstrate new technology in its ProLiant Servers and ProCurve Networking switches called "virus throttling" that can slow the rate at which viruses and worms spread inside a corporate network.

Record High Attendance

Registration for the show reached an all-time high this year, with more than 11,000 people planning to attend, compared with just over 10,000 last year. Despite a number of high-profile mergers in the last year, the number of security companies that will display their wares at RSA is also at a record high. More than 275 vendors have reserved booth space at the show, up from 250 last year, said Toms LaPedis. Leading IT vendors are also planning security-related product announcements.

Major companies will also have more presence on the show floor. Microsoft is a platinum sponsor and will have about 100 employees attending the show. The Redmond, Washington, software maker increased the size of its booth to include space for a theater to host presentations and will have a separate pavilion where attendees can test security products and tools on servers provided by Microsoft, according to Amy Roberts, senior director of Microsoft's Security Business and Technology Unit.

HP will also have a large booth and is sending about 100 employees to the show, the company said.

Serious Issues

Major IT vendors also send a message to their customers that they are serious about IT security by having a big presence at RSA, said Phoebe Waterfield, an analyst at The Yankee Group.

"It's very strategic for big IT companies like Cisco and Microsoft to have a face there and be perceived as an IT vendor that can advise customers on (security)," she said. "They need to be perceived as leading in (security) and selling a product that is perceived as secure and safe."

Federal data privacy laws in the United States, including the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, are driving much of the interest among executives, experts agree.

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