BlackHat: Hackers and malware and jargon – oh my!

By in Views
On August 16, 2016

network security tech PR

After five years of representing cybersecurity clients, my Black Hat cherry has officially been popped – and I’ve got the free t-shirts to prove it. Black Hat is widely considered to be the edgier, younger brother conference to RSA; the one who skips class to go smoke behind the school gym.

While some Black Hat attendees lamented how the conference has moved away from its original intent as a “hacker convention” (that banner is now being carried by the Black Hat follow up, Def Con) and become more corporate, there were plenty of great insights from industry powerhouses on the current state of cybersecurity. The general sentiment could be best summed up by the cautionary piece of advice I was repeatedly offered: “I hope you’re not on the public wifi.”

The sense within the community is that literally no one is safe – not even at a cybersecurity conference. Hackers will always find a way to infiltrate a network, no matter how secure it appears. This point was best illustrated by a live-demo hacking of the supposedly more secure chip cards that are replacing magstripe cards in the US. There were also some fantastic speakers, including a keynote from security researcher Dan Kaminsky, who continued to raise awareness about the growing complexity of IT security and issued calls for better information sharing to deal with threats more quickly and efficiently.

Insert jargon here

Amidst these calls for making the Internet a more secure place was an expo hall of dozens of security vendors explaining how they do this for their customers. Strolling around the Black Hat floor, it was hard not to notice the volume of “marketing speak.” As a PR professional, I get it: businesses want to set themselves apart from their competitors, so why use similar messaging? Unfortunately, some have taken this beyond the point of rationality to a place where words have no meaning.

The best communicators live by the “KISS” rule: keep it simple, stupid. To be an effective tool, language must be accessible and easy to understand. Instead of inventing a catchy new term to call your solution, just tell me point blank what it does. When first impressions are everything, you don’t want to risk losing a potential customer because they don’t understand what an “omnichannel approach” has to do with anything.

We’ve been conducting an informal poll of various cybersecurity conference attendees to find out what meaningless, overused cybersecurity terms they hated the most, and here are some responses we received (some names omitted by request) along with the main offenders:


While security vendors were busy preventing malware from infiltrating enterprise networks, many didn’t notice the jargon that was creeping into their marketing materials. Cybersecurity professionals should take a second look at the words they use and ask themselves if they actually mean something. Otherwise, it’s just smoke and mirrors.

Big data

We can’t wait for next year’s Black Hat to not only see how the industry is progressing (and to get more free t-shirts), but how cybersecurity messaging is evolving, as well. To find out how we can help you talk about your solution in simple, but creative terms, get in touch with us.

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