From the Field: The Good and Bad Surrounding Today’s ‘Toilet Issues’

October 2018

Scene from Security Congress 2018

Scene from Security Congress 2018

Two things immediately stood out, to me at least, while attending my favorite cybersecurity conference last week in New Orleans. Both were tied to toilets.

One had to do with a personal observation: There were lines between sessions to use womens restrooms. At any other event, women typically stand in longer restroom lines than men. Cybersecurity conferences, though, are the reverse because there are far more men than women in the information security profession. Having attended these technical conferences for almost 20 years now, Id grown accustomed to strolling into a restroom while my male colleagues wait their turn to use the mens room. I privately considered it a perk of working in a male-dominated field.

Rather than be peeved at the inconvenience, I was excited. This meant more women are entering the profession and obtaining hard-earned credentials that require years in the field. For so long, companies have paid lip service to diversifying their IT security workforces by gender and race. Here, I was witnessing a transition at the 8th annual (ISC)2Security Congress.

Women also dominated keynotes at the conference, which attracted 2,000 attendees from more than three dozen countries. One reason I enjoy going to conferences is to learn a different way of thinking in a more vocal and visual format. And the keynote speaker that blew my mind was Stanford University professor Jane McGonigal. Her talk on how to think like a futurist implored everyone to consider the unintended consequences of technology. This is not a new concept, nor even a unique speech topic. McGonigals talk, though, now has me wondering more about ethical crossroads, and whether we as a society have already arrived, yet not acknowledged such junctions.

At Palo Alto’s Institute for the Future, a restroom has a sign next to a toilet that essentially says by using the facilities, you consent to having your waste collected and analyzed by public and privacy agencies in the name of research. It is meant as both a joke and a warning that soon no part of us, including our waste, will be safe from government scrutiny. Twenty years ago, I read a best-seller about what was then a leading antidepressant, and the author noted a high level of people taking the drug in certain Texas communities. Municipalities knew they had a mental health crisis because fish pulled from their local streams and lakes were laden with the drug, which had entered the water supply via wastewater.

Those Texans likely didnt know about the impact their medication use had on fish stocks. That futuristic toilet message, however, reflects where we are at as a society in voluntarily giving away our habits, our financial data, our health data, and even our friendsdata to access apps or play online games or conduct work with free Wi-Fi without fully considering or caring how that data is being used. As a content provider, and one with a specialty in privacy and cybersecurity, this is an issue well continue to closely follow.

In the meantime, I still plan to use public restrooms when necessary—even if I now wait a little longer to use them at cybersecurity conferences.

Thank you for reading this,

Anne Saita