Farewell, Myrtle Beach: Recapping Techno Security 2022

If you have not been to an in-person event since 2019, you are not alone. The tech industry as a whole lost the flow of gatherings in 2020 and by 2021, the few that remained were much smaller in terms of attendance.  This year, we were ready for the Spring edition of Techno as it has consistently been held live and in-person and the number of people I saw made it clear: we want to network!

For the final Myrtle Beach-based edition of the Techno Security and Digital Forensics Conference, I was met with cool and wet conditions outside not typical for this time of year.  However, the Sunday vibe around the Marriott Grande Dunes was anything but. Every corner of the conference floor was warm and welcoming with anticipation for the coming days of comradery, knowledge sharing and fun.

I arrived in the late afternoon and quickly found several familiar faces to catch up with. Joseph Adams (Techno Conference Advisory Board Member) stopped by my booth, and I seized the opportunity to ask him about the event and his thoughts about next year.  This 16th year of his attendance gave me insight that proved exactly what I was thinking, this is a key event for the community. He went on to tell me “…the new venue in Wilmington will be great for the event, the conference center there is great and will serve the community well”.  I think we all look forward to a new venue and change things up.

Mike Biggs, of Forensic Computers, Inc. out of Glen Lyn, Virginia, stated: “FCI has been attending Techno Security in Myrtle Beach since the beginning. It has been amazing to watch the conference grow into what is has become through the years. Grand Dunes Resort has been an amazing venue throughout the years. We are in a sense sad to be moving on from there but at the same time excited about the growth that has necessitated the need for the move. Techno continues to be one of the best conferences to attend for digital forensics and we look forward to seeing what the future holds for this event.”

The Exhibit Hall

The companies present at Techno are largely long-time sponsors or supporters. In fact, one of the leading sponsors of the event spends most of their marketing budget on this single event! That should speak to the value the conference brings to the digital forensic and security community. 

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As a vendor at the event, I had the opportunity to speak to customers of our products. Clearly this is one of the reasons a company sets up a booth and attends, but hearing from our customers directly was fun and at times, enlightening! We heard how the tools were being used, how they thought a tweak could be made, success stories, and a genuine interest in our future roadmap.

As attendees meandered through the exhibit hall, a great focus could be seen on the technologies that improved efficiency. Security departments and law enforcement agencies are experiencing overwhelming volumes of digital data as criminals have taken advantage of a global pandemic and societal pressures. This case volume is what those in attendance were there to figure out and find solutions for.  As I walked around the event, it was clear these solution providers had a solid grasp of the need and have stepped up to fill it.

One of the most impactful experiences I had at Techno was seeing professionals from the various companies, even competitors perhaps, visiting with one another. No competition, just shared experiences. But let’s be honest as well, this is a somewhat small community and people move around, but we each hold respect for all of those who are out here making a difference.

Day 1 of the event saw an incredible outpouring of interest in the hall. So many visits by the attendees at each booth I saw, and conversations ranging from the quick “great to see you in person!” to the more in-depth “how do I perform this task with your tool?” were occurring all over.  Each aisle was standing room only with each booth crowded, great to see. The event was mask friendly which should make anyone considering future visits to these conferences a safe place to mingle.

Day 2 brought more great presentations and meetings. As I perused the hall and around the event, I could sense the 2 years of virtual networking, or in many cases, the lack of networking, made for quite impactful discussions this week.  Almost no one was standing alone (unless in a call) but were completely engaged.

I stopped and chatted with Jeff Hedlesky, a well-known tech and security guru and evangelist, and he had this to say: “Tired of watching the news and losing faith in humanity? Come to this event and look around. You will see some of the best people sharing information about protecting communities – people from all over the world are here who could be doing anything else, getting paid more perhaps, but they are here; working to make a better world and secure it.” I thought that sentiment really hit home for this event.

The Unites States Secret Service (USSS) was in attendance, tucked away in the corner of the exhibit floor, but was seeing some good traffic. When I stopped by to chat, they shared with me that the attendees who visited were curious what the USSS was doing in relation to digital forensics and learned more about the Service. 

University representation coming in from DeSales University with Joe Walsh and Brian Perticari was a busy booth all three days. It was interesting to watch the interactions there as Joe and Brian not only teach, but are also forensicators themselves, and spoke to prospective students and fellow examiners. Again, a show of cross-pollination of knowledge.

I particularly liked the presence of the USSS and DeSales as it was a reminder that we are all working towards a common goal and that government and academia are a large part of it all. We as a community must ensure we are preparing the next generation of security professionals and that we employ those with these skills in government.  We need voices and talent in both.

Day 3 and the exhibit hall was still buzzing. As a vendor at the event, it was evident that those in attendance were eager not just to meet with us, but also to take home some freebies.  This event had no shortage of new and interesting schwag! From beer, to hot sauce, socks, license plates (not frames!), can openers and so much more, the vendors know how to attract attention. In my mind, for years we have all had a selection of trinkets that we toss in drawers. The thumb drives no one trusts to use, mouse pads (still useful), and pens, but I think the marketing professionals at these companies are ‘reading the room’ so to speak and have homed in on what people like and what would be fun and useful to them.

The Presentations

Day 4 of the event kept the attendees busy with 17 presentations.  While the exhibit hall had been largely torn down and packed up, there was still plenty of education to be had. I noticed more than a few gatherings of people together in and around the hotel who continued to blend their knowledge on the last day. I noticed several things actually: vendors eating and chatting together, law enforcement friends from all around the world discussing exploits, challenges and stories, and of course influencers like CyberSocialHub with their booth brought many an on-looker.

The conference has always been packed with speakers and engagement opportunities. This week was no different. Overall, there were about 122 presentations on a wide range of topics that were focused and timely; elements we all look for in a profession-based event.

With about 8 rooms set up for presentations, attendees had the opportunity to not only network with their peers, but engage with the speaker(s) and take back to their organization information on a technology, application or an update on trends in the market.  I find what is the most valuable aspect of theses conferences are the side conversations, personal networking opportunities and sharing common trials experienced in the work we do.  The importance of these is immeasurable! With an event that has existed for this long, friendships have endured, partnerships have been formed and new businesses have sprung up, all because of the opportunity to meet with like-minded individuals.

As a first-day presenter, my room held several members of the event with a curiosity about the subject of digital evidence management. While public speaking is always a fun and interesting personal experience, I enjoyed sharing my information and fielding several questions. If you have the opportunity to speak at any level, take it. I much prefer being in front of a group of people rather than on a screen. As a speaker, one can gage the level of interest and identify more quickly ways to pivot the conversation if needed. It also gave me an opportunity to hand out a special stress ball to my audience members. Not a huge bonus for them, but I like leaving them with a little something.

I had the chance to meet several contacts I had only chatted with on LinkedIn, and we really were able to pick up the conversation and engage freely, it was truly amazing to have those chats. In particular, I caught up with Patrick Siewert from Pro Digital Forensic Consulting, LLC, a digital forensics services provider from my hometown of Richmond, Virginia.  We had been LinkedIn contacts for some time, but now having the face-to-face, we shared a common experience and had a good laugh.

The Techno Security and Digital Forensics Conference is held twice a year, East and West Coast options.  The October 10-12, 2022 San Diego event held at the Hilton, La Jolla Torrey Pines is a beautiful venue with incredible access to local attractions.  As we look to the East Coast 2023 edition of the conference, it will be held at the Wilmington Convention Center in Wilmington, North Carolina, June 5-8.

Nelson Eby has spent over 20 years in the digital forensics space, currently working for OpenText in their Security business. He spent 13 years with the FBI in the Computer Analysis Response Team (CART) training unit and the Richmond Field office, held forensic and insider threat roles for a Fortune 100 company and has several semesters of educating at the University level. He holds a Master’s degree in computer fraud investigation from George Washington University, is a certified computer examiner and has several industry standard certifications related to forensics and cyber security. Nelson is an avid road cyclist and enjoys talking bikes (or cars).

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