A Swiss Perspective on the RSA Conference

A Swiss Perspective on the RSA Conference

Impressions from RSA, February 24-28, 2020, and Marcus Dahlén presenting at the residence of the Consul General of Switzerland in San Francisco

The cyber security world is complex. On the one hand, cyber-crime actors are increasing in numbers as well as skills. On the other hand, the IT landscape grows more complicated partly because sensitive business information resides on multiple cloud providers and must be accessed from devices all over the world. Add to this billions of “smart”, but “hackable”, devices being connected to the Internet, such as toasters, and an increase in regulatory requirements to protect sensitive information. These are all very challenging tasks to corporate security teams worldwide. Over the last years, these teams have invested billions of dollars in security products to prevent, detect and respond to risks related to these challenges. The result is a complex landscape of security products that may not always play well together or provide the promised return on investment. Add the lack of cyber security experts in the global market and you have a good picture of where we stand in today’s cyber security world. Having a comprehensive view of these challenges and how to tackle them is crucial to all security startups.

Some observations from the RSA Conference

Some weeks ago, I visited the RSA conference (RSAC) in San Francisco with some of the most successful cyber security companies in the world. The conference had about 36 000 attendees, 700 speakers and 650 exhibitors on the expo floors. The week was filled with security startups trying, but quite often failing, to explain their unique selling points. Many startups are struggling to explain the problem that they solve for their customers. One reason for this might be the limited number of words which can be used to describe the value of a security product. Startups should consider using standard security frameworks (e.g. NIST) to explain to their customers where they provide added value. Or even better, the security framework from the customer, as Microsoft’s CISO explained it during a session at RSAC.

I also talked to major security vendors and multinational corporations providing a one-stop-shop for security needs in a certain area but often missing innovative approaches. This gives startups a “sweet spot” to introduce their product on the market.

Due to the Coronavirus it was also a week filled with hand sanitizers, “elbow greetings” and keeping a constant look at the development of the virus in San Francisco.

The RSAC startup pitch stage is always a highlight: This is where startups compete against each other to win the prize as the “most innovative startup” of the year. Securiti.ai, which gives you a global view of all personal data across your systems, won the title. Another of my favorites was Vulcan, which had a very interesting product for automation of vulnerability remediation. I enjoy looking at startups providing products supporting “cyber hygiene” (i.e. best practice such as correct configuration, patching vulnerabilities, etc.). Attacks exploiting these kinds of vulnerabilities are still prevalent and an area where many companies are still struggling. Hence, I also did a deep-dive on mature and enterprise grade startups like Cycognito, which helps you understand your company’s external attack surface, and XMCyber, which continuously analyzes your internal infrastructure for vulnerabilities and misconfigurations.

Further, the conference is filled with network opportunities to discuss approaches to new concepts such as SASE. And I also discussed the opportunity of doing Zero Trust workshops in Switzerland with John Kindvag, the “inventor” of the Zero Trust model.

Of course, I also talked to a lot of Israeli startups. It’s impossible to write about startups in the cyber security space without mentioning Israel. After all, Israel has, per capita, the most startups in the world and their ecosystem is somewhat unique when it comes to cyber security startups. One of the reasons for this is that the best people in the country are being hand-picked for the cyber security military force, where they receive the best possible technical training on the job. One example being Cycognito above.

A Swiss presence would make sense

The ecosystem in Silicon Valley attracts Israeli startups and we see them opening offices all over the Bay Area, but usually they keep the product development in Israel. Of course, Israel also had their own pavilion at the RSA conference expo floor. Other countries such as Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands also had their own country pavilions introducing their security startups to the 36 000 attendees but also profiting from social networking across the industry. With Switzerland being one of the most innovative countries in the world, the country should showcase their government organizations, startups and other companies on this cyber security stage.

During RSA, Swisscom together with the Cyber Defense Campus and the Swiss Business Hub hosted a networking event in the residence of the Consul General of Switzerland in San Francisco. This was a great opportunity to bring Swiss, US and Israeli security experts from large enterprises, venture capitalist and startups together. We are looking forward to organizing a similar event next year.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions about the topics above or if you want more information about the startups we are looking at.

Marcus Dahlén, VP Cyber Security @ Swisscom Outpost, Palo Alto, California, US (LinkedIn)

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Clément Nussbaumer

Clément Nussbaumer

Welcome on board!

Clément Nussbaumer joined Swisscom’s Outpost in Palo Alto in February as the 2020 trainee. He will support the activities in the telecommunication domain and help to set up new infrastructure in the Swisscom Cloud Lab. He works closely with a North American startup which has specialized in programmable switch fabric for data-center applications. This technology is especially important to allow 5G, IoT, Big Data and AI application at scale.

He joined Swisscom Switzerland in 2019, firstly evaluating the quality of Swisscom’s cellular network at altitudes used for drone operations. Then he worked on an identification service for drones, that will permit drone operators and the public sector to know if a drone is operating in a given area.

Clément wrote his master thesis on homomorphic encryption. This type of encryption permits to securely evaluate mathematical operations on encrypted data without having access to the decryption key. This permits offloading heavy computation tasks to the cloud without compromising the privacy of a customer.

Clément has not just a background in Software Defined Networking (SDN), drone operation and cyber security, but also in rocket science! In 2018 he participated in an international student rocketry competition in the US and was responsible for the software that sent real time telemetry of the rocket during its ascension to the 10’000 feet target. Clément’s team won the technical excellence award.

We wish Clément all the best for his 2020 assignment in the US!

More on Clément Nussbaumer: https://www.linkedin.com/in/clement-j-m-nussbaumer

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Swiss Entrepreneur Dinner

Swiss Entrepreneur Dinner

70 people enjoyed lively conversations with fine food and good drinks.

Switzerland Global Enterprise and Swisscom have invited to the Swiss Entrepreneur Dinner for the second time. At this meeting, two delegations from Switzerland from politics, science and industry met Swiss business people who work in Silicon Valley and American companies affiliated with Switzerland. The dinner organized on the occasion of the CES in Las Vegas took place in a casual atmosphere at the Domenico winery in San Carlos / CA.

Click on the image for captions

To read about the Swiss universities visit in Silicon Valley, link here.

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Academic visit

Academic visit

Group Picture (Domenico Winery)
Left to right: Prof. Martin Vetterli (EPFL Lausanne), Prof. Michael Hengartner (University of Zurich), Susanne Giger (Coop), Roger Wüthrich-Hasenböhler (Swisscom), Prof. Roland Siegwart (ETH Zurich).

Swiss universities in Silicon Valley

At the beginning of January, presidents from three leading Swiss universities visited the Swisscom Outpost: Professor Joél Mesot (ETH Zurich), Professor Martin Vetterli (EPFL Lausanne) and Professor Michael Hengartner (University of Zurich) explored what role universities play in an innovative ecosystem on-site. This visit was initiated by Roger Wüthrich-Hasenböhler (Head of Swisscom Digital Business). The group, which also included ETH Professor Roland Siegwart, then traveled on to CES in Las Vegas.

Importance of knowledge transfer

With seven meetings and a networking dinner, the Outpost team put together a nutritious program for the Swiss academics. Various facets were included that make up the unique Silicon Valley ecosystem in terms of education, research and spin-offs.

In addition to the question of what essential role universities play in such a system, the importance of an easy knowledge transfer from academia to the industry was also discussed. A recent real-world example of an ETH Zurich spin-off provided a first-person perspective to this.

Further talking points were the differences between Swiss and American universities, easy founders’ access to relevant players and how an active alumni society fosters the innovation spirit.

Connecting the ecosystem

From Plug And Play Tech Center the group received a quick history lesson on Silicon Valley and Plug and Play’s current role as a massive industry connector. While their goal is to do 1.000 investments per year soon, they do not only have a successful VC strategy. Their ever expanding locations all over the world are often built and run with industry partners, often focusing on a country’s biggest assets. E.g. luxury retail in France, automotive in Germany, and financial services in Singapore.

What founders of university spin-offs need

Entering the world of venture capitalism, one session highlighted differences from the investors’ perspective. Venture capitalists from Silicon Valley shared their experiences from many investments in university spin-offs which have given them a deep knowledge of what it is exactly that these founders need.

Exclusive visit to Lyft Level 5

The visit to Lyft’s Level 5 Engineering Center in Palo Alto gave the participants exclusive insights. This brand-new facility focuses on building Lyft’s own self-driving technology. Rather than build driverless cars from scratch, it is developing a virtual driver using cameras, radar and lidar sensors.

Switzerland and Silicon Valley

The program was launched at swissnex in San Francisco. Their mission is to connect people and ideas from Switzerland and Silicon Valley. During a breakfast session, various exponents explained the significant differences between these two ecosystems, which made it easier for the group to get started.

 Marc Wälti, Palo Alto, January 13 2020

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Christoph Aeschlimann

Christoph Aeschlimann

Visiting the Outpost

For the first time since his appointment, the new CTO is visiting Silicon Valley

Since February 2019, Christoph Aeschlimann has been head of IT, Network & Infrastructure at Swisscom. So it was about time to visit the Outpost in Palo Alto. At the beginning of September, Aeschlimann visited Silicon Valley together with Frank Dederichs, head of Enterprise Architecture, and other Swisscom colleagues.

In addition to getting to know the Outpost and its staff, various visits were on the agenda. The first meetings took place at VMware and Dell Technologies in Palo Alto, who have both been important partners and suppliers for Swisscom for a long time. After that, the visit continued to Andreessen Horowitz, one of the leading venture capital firms in Silicon Valley. This was followed by presentations from telco start-ups on the topics of network intelligence and virtualization.

The second day began with a visit to Facebook and a meeting with the Telecom Infrastructure Project (TIP). Besides an introduction to TIP, the various project groups focused on topics such as network virtualization, edge computing and machine learning for network operators. Afterwards, it was back to the Swisscom Outpost for a lunch session with all staff members, who introduced themselves and their activities. Finally, two start-ups came to the office to present their solutions in the area of 5G.

As usual with visits to the Outpost, the tour group was invited to an American-style barbecue involving all Swisscom employees in the USA. The so-called Impossible Sausages, consisting of plant-based meat and milk substitutes without any animal-based ingredients, provided plenty of material to keep the conversation going. This too is an invention from Silicon Valley – it’s practically required to have eaten it, or at least seen it…

Picture: (upper row, from left to right) Stephan Massalt, Jeffrey Gantner, Lukas Peter, Frank Dederichs, Simon Zwahlen, Peter Messer, Christoph Aeschlimann, Cornelius Heckrott, Marcus Dahlén, Stefan Petzov; (lower row, from left to right) Jörg Wagner, Roland Bieri, Zohaib Khan and Ned Vasic.

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