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RSA 2017 – A T-Shirt Response

“Have fun at RSA!” These are the words I hear from friends and family and colleagues at work that don’t have the opportunity to make the pilgrimage to San Francisco for the largest gathering of security folks of the year, the RSA Conference.  Regardless of whether you are a vendor, buyer, or general attendee, you likely approach RSA with one part anticipation and one part dread. The conference has grown so big that it’s sucked in a big chunk of downtown San Francisco – first the North Hall of the Moscone, then the West Hall, and this year spillover sessions at the Marriott Marquee.

Two weeks prior to RSA this year, I was stuck on a conference call and thought it would be fun to make a t-shirt that would allow me to scoot quickly through the expo halls at RSA.  Given that the exhibition halls at RSA are the business and selling side of the security market, the goal of exhibitors is to engage in conversation with attendees that wander by their booth, and to quickly “qualify” them to make sure they can actually purchase goods or services from them.

Year after year, I’ve had to say versions of “no, thank you” or “don’t shoot, I’m a civilian” to deflect these inquiries.  After nearly 20 years of RSAs and other security conferences, I needed an efficiency play, and I thought a t-shirt communicating to the world that I had no purchase authority would be my best bet.



The irony, of course, is that I’m a vendor too.  My efficiency play was more to save time for both me and the vendors, because I, in fact, have no purchase authority. Instead of stopping every 10 feet to explain, I wanted to be able to motor around the exhibits with my elven invisibility cloak. Voila, t-shirt! What started as a bit of a harmless fun, quickly turned viral when @nousie posted this Tweet Monday night of RSA week when I was hanging out at the W Hotel, again ironically, waiting for a client.

I had no idea how much the t-shirt would resonate with attendees, from other vendors (“that’s hilarious man”) to security leaders who had purchase authority (“you have got to send me one of those!”).   What started out a bit of fun blew up my Twitter feed by Tuesday morning of RSA.

By Monday afternoon I was outed, then I decided to have fun with it.  Friends like Jack Daniel, Trey Ford, Wendy Nather, Tom Brennan, and Jeff LoSapio got a kick out of it too, as well as many others.









Perhaps the most fun with exhibitors, to a person were good sports, including:

The Laura Agawal and a sad marketing guy at HyTrust

With Caroline Bernier and Anna O’Donoghue of Avecto

With Elisa Lippincott, Trend Micro

Kate Brew and alien baby from AlienVault


And finally Joy Powers at Spark Minute


My favorite moment was when I overhead an exhibitor say “it’s no longer about the security of the network, it’s now about network security.”  I still don’t know what that means…  My t-shirt was my feeble response to the over-the-top experience that the RSA Security Conference has become.  So we had a bit of fun, and not at the expense of anyone (really).  The response to the t-shirt was exceedingly positive, which was probably indicative of the collective reaction to overwhelming experience in and around the Moscone Center during RSA 2017.  The sensory overload, the armies of attendees trying to squeeze through tight spots in the Moscone Center (under construction), and free-flowing alcohol coming from different directions at all hours of the day…

At least we have until BlackHat 2017 to recover.


About John Dickson

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John Dickson is an internationally recognized security leader, entrepreneur and Principal at Denim Group, Ltd. He has nearly 20 years’ hands-on experience in intrusion detection, network security and application security in the commercial, public and military sectors. As a Denim Group Principal, he helps executives and Chief Security Officers (CSO’s) of Fortune 500 companies, including major financial institutions, launch and expand their critical application security initiatives.
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One Response to “RSA 2017 – A T-Shirt Response”

  1. stumbles

    Slow clap of approval, I feel completely lost as I was going to print “No purchasing authority” for this BlackHat 17 myself.

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