The New Etiquette of Webinars (insert post-Covid statement here)

Hands up if you have been to an in-person conference or summit since the middle of March this year. Yeah, me neither.

And so we saw the rapid build-up of the online webinar, starting from the first tentative steps made by the BBC’s Have I Got News For You, through to LinkedIn Live, Zoom based cabinet briefings being “hacked”, and the advent of the vanity backdrop. And there was much celebration amongst members of ISACA and (isc)2 as we could now still get CPE’s for sitting around drinking coffee and chatting with our infosec mates.

Some fo the first ones were, frankly, a little bit crap. Poor sound and video, and events organisers more used to managing people in person rather than at the end of a dodgy video link. But these were pioneering days, and let’s face it, we needed those CPEs. It didn’t take long for features to start pouring into platforms like Zoom, Teams, Discord, even Webex (used only by employees of Cisco and people trapped in a Cisco building), and other platforms like BrighTalk. Events people got better at putting them on and using the tools, and the quality went up. New tools (or tools that found a new audience) such as StreamYard and Livestoem have truly democratised the ability to produce slick online conferences with a big budget feel at pocket-friendly pricing.

But.

The rot is starting to seep in, and quickly too. It’s only been a few months as well.

For context since the beginning of this month (October) to the end of next month, I will have hosted over 30 hours of online events, mostly as a full-on Host but also as a panel moderator, and some poor behaviours are starting to seep in already.

So I present to you my Top Ten Webinar Peeves, from both sides of the screen

  • Start on time. Even if some of your speakers are suffering from technical difficulties, start on time. You should always have a plan B anyway, or a host that can think on their feet quickly enough to engage the audience for the few extra minutes needed. Unlike a physical conference, you don’t have a captive audience. They will leave to do something else or assume it was cancelled last minute. Be on screen straight away and engage immediately.
  • Finish on time. Or slightly earlier. Never overrun. Your attendees are busy people and have meetings and places to be. Again, they are not a captive audience with the promise of a free drink or six at the end of the show and will leave the session at the published time. This means any closing remarks, thanks to sponsors or calls to action will be lost, and the benefit of the session in the first place significantly reduced.
  • Test the platform upfront. There are so many different platforms out there now, all with their own quirks and foibles. Each one has a different workflow to share your screen to give a presentation or require an upload prior to the session. Others require a certain browser to work properly, and they all seem to handle audio devices in different ways. Get it sorted upfront.
  • Position your camera properly. Everybody’s home setup is different, but there are basics that need to be observed. Don’t sit with a window or other light source right behind you as it will darken your image such that you can’t be seen. Can’t move? Then close the curtains. Try out different lights in different locations to get the best picture of you (you want to be recognised at a real conference, later on, don’t you?), and get the camera at the same hight as your eyes. Nobody wants to look into your nostrils. This might mean putting your laptop on a stack of books or similar, but the change is very noticeable.
  • Use a wired microphone and headphones. Having audio coming out of your speakers is suboptimal and can result in feedback. Wired is best because of latency and sound quality. There are some Bluetooth headsets and buds available that do a good job here, but they are the exception, not the rule.
The steps you go to ensuring you look good on screen. I need all the help I can get.
  • Present to the schedule. As a speaker, if you have been given a 15-minute slot, speak for 15 minutes (give or take a couple of minutes I am not a heartless monster). the organisers will have some buffer built-in and can work on the fly for genuine accidental overruns, but if your 15-minute slot goes on for 40 minutes, that is rude and disrespectful to the organisers, the speakers following you, and the audience who may not have even joined to watch you but rather subsequent speakers.
  • Have a timer. Conversely, more organisers should have a visible countdown clock on-screen that will allow everyone to see how much time they have remaining. Additionally, confirming on a regular basis that the speaker knows they will be interrupted and shut down if they exceed their slot by too much is a good way of reinforcing the message to the speaker.
  • Have a discussion area available. Not all questions are going to be answered in the session, so having a Slack, Discord or other platforms available will help immensely and ensure your speakers have an opportunity to connect to the audience after the session if need be.
  • Let everyone speak. A good host will ensure that everyone on a panel or discussion gets the opportunity to put their point across. Most of the time everyone is happy for this to happen, but sometimes people like the sound of their own voice over everyone else’s. Short of removing that person from the session, it is very difficult to manage that without causing embarrassment. Don’t be that person. Let the moderator/host guide you through the whole session as they have a much better idea of what is supposed to happen and when.
  • For goodness’ sake, have fun! As if this year hasn’t been tough enough already, having an opportunity to get together and listen to good talks should be embraced and be enjoyable.

So, speakers, presenters and organisers alike, some tips to make these new (obligatory post-COVID statement here) webinars and sessions more effective for everyone. There are plenty of other tips (don’t use a virtual background if you don’t have a green screen for instance), but these will certainly improve any even you are involved in, and in whatever capacity.

The best thing about virtual events though is that I can get my tea and snacks whenever I want, and not when the venue staff decide. Win-win.


The Runners and Riders of Lockdown

After over six weeks of some kind of lockdown here in the UK, and similar amounts of time elsewhere in the world, it has become very obvious to me that many companies out there are simply ill-equipped to deal with the change in lifestyle the lockdown demands.

By ill-equipped, I don’t just mean from a technology perspective, although we see some of that as companies reduce security requirements to get users online from home. What I mean is that culturally they are not equipped to deal not only with a workforce that needs to work remotely but also a market that is doing the same. Put simply; companies are struggling to re-gear their sales and marketing departments to this brave new world we find ourselves.

I say this because as an industry we are used to a plethora of in-person events happening where vendors can either have stalls displaying their latest products, or stages where carefully polished presentations and panels are put on for us to watch, learn and hopefully decide to buy their product from. Webinars and online events were there but were the distant, impoverished, uglier cousin of something live, in-person and your face. Indeed, just a few weeks before the lockdown I was at RSA Conference in San Francisco, where the very epitome of what I describe was played out for the world to see.*

Then suddenly, it all stopped. Conferences and shows were cancelled, events postponed indefinitely, and in many cases, the security product landscape just stopped. I understand why, in many cases, cash flow needed to be conserved in these unprecedented times. However, it very quickly became apparent that this was the new normal, and that the companies that didn’t embrace it would quickly become irrelevant. after all, if you can’t adapt to a few weeks of disruption, what kind of company are you, delivering products to an industry that needs to plan for disruption?

I watched “Have I Got News For you” in those first few weeks on the BBC, a topical panel show comprised of 5 people, and they did it by having the guests record from their homes.

Have I Got News For You, March 2020

It was different, the dynamic was… a little off… but the show went ahead, the jokes landed, and each subsequent show got better. In other words, the BBC just got on with it, embraced the change, and made it work.

The same needs to happen to many of the security vendors, as unfortunately, it is a case of remaining relevant throughout the lockdown, in the front of people’s minds, and showing that they can overcome adversity by delivering knowledge and information. Those that don’t do it, retract into their proverbial shells and wait for “normality” to return will suffer.

Also, let us assume that normality does return, whatever form that might take. Those that have embraced these alternative Zoom/Skype/Teams/Hangouts/whatever approaches may find they are just as valuable as in-person events and can operate both, side by side, now unconstrained by the lockdown and able to use film and audio in even more creative ways. Which company would you choose to work with in the future, the one who sat tight, and did little market outreach during the lockdown, or the company that continued to communicate with their clients and potential clients through different mediums, sometimes getting it wrong but continually innovating and improving. Which company has the better culture?

It isn’t even a matter of cost. The LinkedIn Live, Zoom, Webinar etc. technologies already existed and were invested in, just woefully underutilised.

The same argument also applies to work from home, as many organisations now realise that productivity isn’t hours sat at the office desk, but rather results.  Which organisation/manager would you want to work for? The one that never changes or the culturally adaptive one that is based on results and trust?

These are challenging times, but these are the times that are going to show many companies in their true light, and you can use this time to differentiate between them.

 

*I do love a good conference, and the benefits they bring to my peers and me are fabulous, in case you think I am biased against them.


RSA 2019, and women finally had to queue for the toilets…

If the streets of San Francisco are becoming more cluttered as the homeless problem gets worse year after year, the conference itself seemed to take a clear shift towards a more friendly and inclusive event.

The redesign of the conference wasn’t just limited to the Moscone Centre itself. To be sure , the revised layout meant even more vendors could be squeezed in (where do they all come from?!) and we could find ourselves utterly lost on the expo floor as it was no longer clear if we were in the North or South hall, and what direction we had to walk in for the West hall when we finally emerged, blinking into the weak Californian sun.

This redesign, if it can be called that, came across to me in two distinct ways, both of which are areas that are close to me. Sure, the talks were good, the Keynotes interesting (if occasionally sponsored), and the overall organisation was excellent. But the two areas I thought that stood out were diversity and wellness.

Of course, the more cynical of us will say that it was just a move that RSA made to keep the haters quiet and the ticket sales up, but it really did feel like a corner had been turned here. That is not to say they did it first, as there are thousands of events around the world that are supporting diversity and wellness, but to see it done at this scale is what made it stand out. RSA is undeniably a commercial conference, and many parts of the infused echo chamber deride it for being so, but it is also a litmus test of how the industry as a whole is performing.

 

Group_Male_Executives1

Therefore, seeing the demise of the all male panel (or “manel” as I heard it described) and seeing broadly balance panels, and a larger number of talks fronted by women is the direction that the community has been pushing for years. It takes effort to redress a balance like this, but when it reflects is a high profile show like this the benefits are greatly increased. As a direct result of this, my unscientific method of just using my eyes showed me there was a greater number of women attending as well. (I think I even saw a queue for the ladies toilets at one point as well – now if that isn’t scientific proof i don’t know what is). This greater balance is better for all of us in this industry, however you look at it.

As for wellness, I counted at least three sessions on the impact of infosec on mental health, including one keynote. I was informed just today that a straw poll found that 14% of CISOs found the stress of the job “unbearable and unsustainable”, and the associated decline in mental health a very real cause for concern. Our toxic mixture of being measured on failure and the requirements for us to 24×7 “keep secrets” means none of this reported or addressed, and people are suffering. Seeing this addressed by senior and well known people in the field in an open forum can only mean good things and result in better health overall.

Let’s be clear, diversity and wellness are still in the early stages of being addressed, but being addressed they are, and if more shows and conferences like RSA can continue to push the agenda, then the information security industry will become a friendlier place.

Let’s not forget (Will) Wheaton’s Law that applies to all of us here, and a mantra to live your personal as well as your professional life by:

“Don’t be a Dick”.

I was also involved in some media coverage, mainly because of the very fine folks at ITSP Magazine. I helped with a daily wrap up report and an end of show report as well. You will not I hope, dear reader, have missed the quite excellent T-shirts I happen to be sporting…

Thursday’s update was so good, we even did it twice ; if you ever get to meet Sean you can ask him why…

Selena, Marco and Sean did a fantastic job summarising every day, as well as carrying out a slew of other interviews and update. Please do check out their magazine and subscribe, i promise you won’t be disappointed.

I also did an interview with Matthew Schwartz of ISMG, under thier Bank Info Security brand. It focussed on wellness and mental health, and has yet to be published (if at all). This was an interesting choice for me as I do not wish to become the poster boy for this topic, but given the wholly positive response I have recieved from people who not only are affected by the issues I raised, now feel “safe” to talk about them, it is hard to not talk more about it. I have no doubt I will be talking more on this, so I guess i will have to hone the message more to not just get the point across but also avoid being placed in this niche itself.

Hopefully that interview will surface as Matthew is a wonderful interviewer and friend, and he helped tell the story in a very compelling and sensitive way.

Finally, i had the opportunity to knock around RSA with my old mucker Javvad. We absolutely did not plan any filming, and I absolutey did not help him script his film, or even hang around hoping to be filmed. But as luck would have it I happened to be in the right place at the right time to be interviewed.

In it I opine about the huge amounts of negativity aimed at vemndors during RSA, even hearing some commentators refer to it as a “vendor wank-fest” which is both disingenuous and frankly a somewhat disturbing image to conjur up. I will leave you to watch Javvad’s thoughtful film on the topic of vendors, suffice to say that without them we wouldn’t have half of the community we have now.

And then the week was over in a flash. Diversity, wellness, toilets, faulty microphones, vendors and filming, all wrapped up in a blog post, films and a bunch of fun memories.

<edit> Typos


Opening a New Door of Opportunity

As many of you have worked out by now I am no longer in full time employment and have decided to open the doors on my own business; I give you (TL)2 Security Ltd:

tl2_square_colour_logo

Originally intended to fill a gap on my CV while I find a full time job, and allow me to take on work in the interim, I have been blown away by the interest in the services (TL)2 Security offers and thee immense goodwill from so many people. As I was building the website I decided to go beyond a simple one page brochure and expand it a little, resulting in a genuine sense of excitement that I really could make a go of this little enterprise!

As a result I am sat in an office in Paris having just signed my first contract for a couple of months of work. This isn’t just any work, this is an international contract no less! I am also pleased to say I also have other work lined up and getting ready for the contract stage and all in all I am feeling a little pleased with myself.

FIST-PUMP-BABY-THUMB

You can visit the official site at (TL)2 Security, and see the consultancy services on offer, but they broadly fall into two camps, namely strategic (vCISO, strategic advice & support) and Speaking (conferences, keynotes, brand advocacy). It is deliberately very broad at this point and plenty of grey area in between where I will no doubt take on work that is neither one camp or the other; I do have a mortgage to pay after all.

So please welcome (TL)2 Security to the world, incorporated on 25th January 2019, and the first contract signed exactly a month later. It was a difficult labour, and I am still finding my feet, but I am so very, very excited to help it grow up and become a force to be reckoned with.

As the well know philosopher and entrepreneur, Derek Trotter, once said;

“This time next year, we could be millionaires”


What, No Expense Account? My RSA 2019 Itinerary

Yes, you read it here first, I will not be jetting into San Francisco on my private jet and staying at a hotel I wouldn”t tell you plebs about anyway.

RSA 2019 will be a first for me in that I am representing myself and not expensing my trip on the company dime. I am attending in part, to the generosity of ITSP Magazine, (cheers, Sean and Marco!) and all I have to do in return is type a few words out for them. They may already be regretting that decision after seeing me insulting you, dear reader, in my first sentence of this blog.

I often attend RSA without a solid itinerary, getting a lot of value of the “hallway track” and the multitude of events that are thrown in and around the city during the conference proper. However, since I now have some of my personal cash invested in this trip (I am staying in an AirBnB with a shared bathroom for goodness sake), it is probably wise to get at least some kind of structure together. To wit:

dirty-bathroom

Oh, the inhumanity…

The Sessions

  • HUM-T06: Humans Are Awesome at Risk Management
  • DevOps Wine0ing (Not Whining) Cocktail Party
  • ID-T07: Studies of 2FA, Why Johnny Can’t Use 2FA and How We Can Change That
  • CXO-T09: How to Manage and Understand Your Human Risk
  • InfoSecurity Magazine Breakfast Briefing
  • Threat Modelling Brunch with IriusRisk
  • Security Blogger Awards (is it still on this year?)
  • KEY-R02S: Burnout and You: Fireside Chat with Dr. Christina Maslach
  • CXO-R11: The Fine Art of Creating a Transformational Cybersecurity Strategy
  • PROF-F01: Five Secrets to Attract and Retain Top Tech Talent in Your Future Workplace
  • PROF-F02: Why the Role of the CISO Sucks and What We Should Do to Fix It!

In summary then, risk, stress, strategy and human beings; all the key ingredients of any information security function.

This is my first cut of the agenda, and I reserve the right to not attend these and attend others, especially if some of my friends, colleagues, old drinking buddies and interesting random strangers turn up. Because that is what RSA is really about; meeting, networking and swapping ideas and opinions in real time.

The educational element is excellent of cours,, but it is rare that they will address exactly the problems you are facing day to day. You will learn something, you will expand your knowledge and you will take fantastic advice away with you, but it is rare you will get an hour face to face with he speaker. Taking the opportunity to really network and chew the fat with your old chums, as well as new o9nes is an invaluable way of really focusing your efforts.

Of course I have some specific goals (remember my reason for staying in the AirBnB?); I will be networking to find potential consulting work in the future, looking for NED or advisory positions, and seeing what is coming on the horizon from the many vendors. I am also interested to see if Artificial Intelligence code has actually been written in anything other than PowerPoint, although I suspect I will be disappointed again on that front.. Meeting my old boss and mentor, my old Deputy,  a multitude of other pals, even the guy who reckons he is the sole founder of Host Unknown (when everyone knows that is me), is just icing on the cake. I am definitely looking forward to catching up with the person who said I could use their hotel room bathroom too.

There will also be a Host Unknown party, bought to you by the kind sponsorship of anyone who turns up, just like last year in Las Vegas during Black Hat and DefCon. I have heard at least two of the sole founders will be there to welcome the dollar bills of sponsorship from the attendees.

It’s going to be a long, endless week, but I do know that I will come back with more knowledge, more passion, more energy and more excitement for our industry than ever before.

And a whole lot less cash in the bank, so if you see me, don’t forget to offer food and drink.