Recap of the 2021 ISC West Security Conference

I gave a short talk at 2021 ISC West Security Conference. The event was held July 19-21 in Las Vegas, Nevada. My talk was titled “AI and ML for Cyber Threat Prevention”. The ISC West event covers all aspects of security, from physical systems like video surveillance to software systems. The event Web site describes ISC West as the largest security conference in the U.S. I estimate there were somewhere between 10,000 to 15,000 attendees and exhibitors.


Left: The title slide from my talk. It’s clear my graphic design skills are limited. My talk was arranged by a large technical company (who asked not to be named), and attendance was by invitation-only. Right: Most of the rooms at ISC West were reserved by companies for meetings with customers. I noticed Johnson Controls — I worked on a project with them about three years ago where we explored ML for temperature control.

In my presentation, first I gave a brief overview of machine learning techniques, with an emphasis on why supervized techniques (that require labeled training data) don’t work well in most security scenarios. Then I described four techniques: LSTM systems, Transformer Architecture systems, deep neural autoencoder reconstruction error, and variational autoencoder reconstruction probability. I briefly described isolation forest anomaly detection with an emphasis on its strengths and weaknesses.

The ISC West is an industry conference. This means there was a heavy emphasis on business, rather than on education and information. Most of the meeting rooms were reserved by various companies to hold sessions with clients. I find that learning about the business aspects of industry conference helps me understand the big picture of how software systems integrate into overall security platforms.


Left: ISC West was the first major in-person conference in Vegas since covid hit in March 2020. All attendees had to take a daily temperature check. Right: I saw this Cavalier King Charles Spaniel in the casino area of the Bellagio Casino. He was very friendly (but then, I’ve never met an unfriendly Cavalier). Those are my conference shoes in the background. My work shoes are tennis shoes.

By far the biggest aspect of the ISC West conference — and most industry conferences — was the event Expo. Approximately 400 companies set up display booths. I don’t fully understand the return-on-investment for these Expo booths. They are very expensive. I suspect that it’s mostly for companies to demonstrate they are major players in the security (or whatever industry) game. Or, put another way, a company’s absence from a major event might hurt its image and reputation. Maybe.

All in all, I think that attending the ISC West security conference was a good use of my time. I’m confident I represented my company well, and I learned many potentially important, business-related facts about integrated security — information that can be useful in my technical world of machine learning for security.

Whenever I evaluate a conference, I ask myself, “Am I eager to go back next year?” For ISC West 2021, the answer is a definite “yes”.



Left: The 2021 ISC West Expo had hundreds of interesting booths. Center: There were quite a few systems that protect from aerial drone attacks. Right: Everyone needs security systems, even Buddhist monks.



Left: At an Expo with hundreds of companies, it’s difficult to attract attention. But one company did so cleverly with a Mr. “Know-it-All” (aka technical expert), “Fuel” (aka beer), and “Booth Babe” (aka booth babe). Center: Many companies touted their ML and AI capabilities. Right: One of several themes at the Expo was security integration via IoT.


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