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Coronavirus Fears Evident as RSA Kicks Off in San Francisco

While cybersecurity experts from around the globe gathered in San Francisco this week, the looming threat of the coronavirus saw some companies pulling out of the event — among them Facebook, IBM and Verizon.

RSA Conference 2020
Lucas Ropek/Government Technology
Some 40,000 people descended upon San Francisco this week to attend RSA 2020 — one of the largest cybersecurity conferences in the world — where researchers, vendors and government officials come together to discuss current and emerging threats and security solutions. 

The event, held Feb. 24-28, is filled with cyberexperts, CISOs and spies and typically involves a milieu from large federal agencies like the National Security Agency, FBI and Department of Homeland Security, as well as big industry names like Microsoft, Google and McAfee. 

But there have been a number of notable absences, too. While the biggest concerns at RSA typically involve digital viruses, this year's biggest concern involved a real one: fears spurred by a growing number of coronavirus cases worldwide caused a number of big names to drop out of the conference at the last minute, including Facebook, IBM and Verizon. Some six companies based in China have also dropped out, some due to travel restrictions. 

The conference and the city have taken it relatively well, with the city's Mayor London Breed releasing a statement confirming that the city is “working with global, federal and state health agencies to monitor the virus in order to protect residents, businesses and visitors,” while also noting that "risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 in San Francisco is low, as the virus is not circulating within our community.” 

Nonetheless, the conference promises a number of exciting discussions and product reveals in the days ahead, including talks on election security, incident response planning, and breaches; new threat hunting, IoT security, and cloud data prevention loss products; and big speakers, including a discussion with Chris Krebs, director of the DHS' Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. 

Monday kicked off with a day-long seminar about emerging cyber threats, including deepfake and AI-generated media, ransomware attacks on cities and critical infrastructure. 

If the first few days are any indication, this year's conference will see a heavy focus on two big and growing concerns for state and local agencies: the drastic rise in ransomware attacks on government and industry over the past year, and attacks and intrusion into U.S. politics and government by foreign actors.

Eyragon Eidam is the web editor for Government Technology magazine, after previously serving as assistant news editor and covering such topics as legislation, social media and public safety. He can be reached at