The organizers of BSides Manchester have hit back at accusations of corporate influence by a sponsor.
In a series of tweets, degenerateDaE highlighted the number of talks being given by employees of NCC Group, and noted that the company is also the platinum sponsor. “Out of the six organizers listed I was able to confirm at least 5/6 worked at NCC when BSides Manchester was created in 2014,” they said, pointing out that at least three still work for NCC Group.
“Figured I’d tweet about this because the link between NCC and BSides Manchester was not one that I was personally aware of, nor have I seen anyone else talk about this. It would be great to get some transpancy on this from the BSides Manchester team.”
Responding, BSides Manchester organizing committee member Matt Summers posted a statement calling the accusation “incredibly hurtful and makes us as organizers question why we do this.”
He clarified that “BSides Manchester is directed by three directors (board members) and listed as a Community Interest Company (CIC) which means that it is a not-for-profit and regulated as such.”
He went on to say that there are other directors who are not board members but who have helped organize the conference – some of whom are or have been directly employed by NCC Group. “However a few people who have remained in the shadows and who were not outed by this individual have never been employed by NCC Group. The directors and board members of the CIC have never hidden their employment from the community.”
Saying that the intention of BSides Manchester was about putting on a regional event as he “missed the camaraderie of BSides London,” and he pitched the idea of a BSides Manchester to a senior person at NCC Group. “Why? Because I needed some seed money to get the event off the ground.”
He said: “Since 2014 NCC Group consistently sponsored as a platinum sponsor with other companies coming and going as platinum sponsors, but we have never turned a company down when it came to the level of sponsorship they wanted.
“Over the last two years we have had three platinum sponsors. Over the years this has meant that we have had to rejig the layout of the venue to ensure that everyone gets what it is in the contract and every sponsor got a fair and honest slice of the pie.”
Regarding the accusations of conflict of interest and insinuations that NCC Group had gained an unfair advantage over other sponsors and speakers, Summers said he had always been forthright with people that I wear two hats, one for his employer and one for BSides “and anyone who knows me will know that I let my actions speak for me.”
He said: “This accusation is unfounded quite frankly insulting. Unfortunately, I can’t prove in any way that there is no conflict of interest. As board members and directors we insulated ourselves from the team that NCC Group put together to sponsor the event, I can’t prove this but I can say that we had a big enough job putting an event together without steering NCC Groups efforts at the event.
“There are also additional people who helped us put the event on that were not employed by NCC Group but I won’t call them out and drag them into this. NCC Group does have robust procedures about additional employment and ensuring that there are no conflicts of interest with any additional employment and I would hope that this would be enough for all parties.”
He also clarified that NCC Group is “probably the biggest employer of security people in Manchester,” and he praised them for being “incredibly supportive of those wishing to speak publicly.”
Security researcher Javvad Malik, who was one of the original organizing team of BSides London in 2011, along with Summers, praised him for being “one of the hardest workers in the room.”
Malik said: “It pains me to see accusations thrown at him, when I know he’s a man of integrity and honesty. He invited me down to the first few BSides Manchesters to compere track one. I was incredibly honored. But again, I saw first hand how much of himself he puts into these events. BSidesMCR was no exception, and it was run really well.
“So the question is, does NCC have an undue influence over BSidesMCR? And if you knew Matt at all, that’s a shameful question to ask. I would never believe it, and I’ve seen pretty close how he runs cons.”
Malik made the point that if anyone feels like there are too many NCC Group employees running the conference, “put yourself forward and offer to help run the con yourself. It’ll open your eyes to a lot of things.” This was echoed by Summers, who said: “The last thing I want to say is that every year we have asked for people to join us as organizers. In fact it’s on our website that we want people to help us.
“If people want transparency, then they can join us as organizers to see for real.”