These Charts Show How Security Pros Are Rising in the Corporate Ranks

February 8, 2018, 12:49 PM UTC

The annual RSA Conference in San Francisco is the biggest schmoozfest in the computer security industry and a barometer of key trends.

In past years, Fortune has analyzed the titles of scheduled sessions at the event to determine what’s hot and what’s not. Between 2012 and 2015, for example, “cyber” and “cloud” rose to prominence, signaling the growing acceptance of a buzzy self-descriptor and a new kind of IT landscape, while “crypto” and “commerce,” which were top of mind at earlier iterations of the event, fell out of favor.

This year, the latest analysis uncovered another trend: An increased focus on more senior executives.

Since 2009, the number of “senior management” mentions in the abstracts of proposed conference sessions—including related terms, like chief information security officers, board members, and executives—have soared. The preponderance seems to parallel the rising importance of information security pros, whose roles have taken on greater significance after a seemingly endless series of corporate hacks, breaches, and security snafus in corporate America.

You can view this trajectory in the charts below. (Note that the data for 2018 were gathered before the final submissions deadline, which means that it was incomplete.)

These charts demonstrate, in broad strokes, an increasing interest among security pros to present talks that either discuss or are aimed at higher-level executives. (Cue Drake’s “Started From The Bottom.”)

“Security has higher visibility” in companies, says Wade Baker, cofounder of Cyentia Institute, a Virginia-based cybersecurity research group, who analyzed the above data and shared it with Fortune. Baker applied natural language processing techniques to 15,000 “call for paper” submissions over the past decade to arrive at the findings.

“Boards are actively asking questions and making demands” related to cybersecurity, says Baker, who previously served as a chief technology officer at Verizon (VZ), where he helped author the company’s annual, highly-cited data breach investigations report. “We’re seeing the heat pick up on security leaders,” he adds, mentioning recent Senate hearings related to last year’s massive hack of the credit bureau Equifax.

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Another interesting finding: GDPR, the toughened data regulatory regime soon slated to roll out across the European Union, already appears to be attracting unprecedented buzz at this year’s RSA conference. The term’s increased use is among the most spectacular rises.

“In the last couple of years [GDPR] has gone from nothing to one of the more common themes out there,” Baker says. In contrast, he notes that mentions of other regulations, like PCI-DSS, or Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard, have steadily fallen by the wayside.

In a new report that covers more data analysis related to RSA conference session proposals, Baker sums up the biggest trends of the past few years. “We’ll cut this short and just award 2016 to IoT [Internet of Things], 2017 to ransomware, and 2018 to GDPR.”

You can download that report here.

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