Another Domino Falls: AT&T Out Of RSA Conference Amid Coronavirus Concerns

AT&T's withdrawal from RSA comes six days after IBM canceled its participation in the event and just four days before the 42,500-person cybersecurity event is set to kick off at San Francisco’s Moscone Center.


AT&T Thursday became the second high-profile vendor to pull out of the RSA Conference due to the coronavirus outbreak.

“We value our participation in industry events like RSA and greatly support the measures taken by event organizers to protect attendees,” AT&T wrote on Twitter. “But is our responsibility to safeguard our employees.”

The company said on Twitter that the decision not to participate in RSA was made after careful consideration and discussion, and it looks forward to returning to the massive cybersecurity show next year. AT&T staked its claim in security with its August 2018 buy of threat detection vendor AlienVault for a reported $600 million, according to Momentum Cyber. It has since been renamed AT&T Cybersecurity.

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[Related: IBM Pulls Out Of RSA Conference Due To Coronavirus Outbreak]

AT&T's withdrawal from RSA comes six days after IBM canceled its participation in the event and just four days before the massive event is scheduled to kick off at San Francisco’s Moscone Center. Just 1.2 percent of the roughly 42,500 expected attendees have canceled their registration as of Thursday, according to conference officials.

One executive for a top security company, who plans on attending the conference and did not want to be identified, said he understands the concerns of vendors like AT&T and IBM.

“They are trying to be responsible based on a public safety concern,” he said. “For us we feel it is risk, but we’ll take the risk. It is a calculated risk.”

From a company perspective, RSA Conference officials said 13 of the roughly 700 participating vendors have pulled out of the show: six of the cancellations are from Chinese companies; six are from American companies (including IBM and AT&T); and one is from a Canadian company. The three Chinese vendors still planning to exhibit at RSA will be staffing their booths with individuals from the U.S.

“We learned today that AT&T Cybersecurity made the decision to no longer participate in RSA Conference 2020,” conference officials said on their website. “We understand and respect their decision.”

AT&T Cybersecurity was supposed to be one of 15 Gold Sponsors at the RSA Conference, which is the third-highest level of sponsorship behind the nine Platinum Sponsors (including IBM Security prior to its withdrawal) and three longtime Diamond Sponsors of the show: Cisco Systems, McAfee and RSA.

The company tends to have a noticeable presence at the RSA Conference, highlighted by AT&T Cybersecurity’s 30 x 20-foot booth near the front of the Moscone Center’s North Expo Hall. AT&T last week pulled out of Mobile World Congress in Barcelona just one day before the entire 109,000-person event was scrapped.

But RSA Conference organizers said exhibitors have already begun building their booths in preparation for the world’s largest cybersecurity event, which has been taking place since 1991. Conference officials said they’re still scheduled to open on-site registration Saturday, and have put several health and safety measures in place, including continuous disinfection of registration counters and floors.

Although there are 15 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the U.S., not a single one of those cases is reported to be in San Francisco. A situation summary from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) indicates the health risk from coronavirus for the general American public is still considered low.

RSA’s decision to proceed with the show stands in contrast to Facebook, which last week canceled its global marketing summit, which had been expected to draw 5,000 people to San Francisco’s Moscone Center from March 9 to March 12. Some 82 percent of registered attendees and exhibiting organizations at the RSA Conference are from the U.S., officials said.

In the security arena, Fortinet last week opted to cancel Accelerate 2020 Barcelona (which was supposed to take place this week) due to health and safety concerns associated with the coronavirus. The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based platform security giant said registration fees paid by credit card will be fully refunded over the next five to seven days.

“Holding our first Accelerate in Barcelona was exciting on many levels,” Fortinet said on the event website. “The demand exceeded our expectations and we were all looking forward to spending next week with our valued partners and customers. After much consideration, the decision was made to cancel the event to avoid any possible spread of the Coronavirus.”

Executive Editor, News Steven Burke contributed to this story.