2023 Conference report

Pass the SALT is a free access, English spoken, 3-day conference dedicated to Free software and Security. This page is our annual report for the 2023 edition of the conference.

After the synthesis below, you will find in this report a detailled view on the following topics:
- the attendance,
- the content,
- a more detailled analysis of the 2023 edition content,
- the attendees feedback,
- the speakers feedback
- and the conclusion.

1. Summary

Conference content
The quality of the talks has been really good (see below). A notable fact about the 2023 edition was its acceptance rate which dropped to 55% vs 69% in 2022. Another special fact encountered during the CFP is that for speakers we contacted directly among big tech companies, we faced a lack of conference budget given by the companies even to their top developers.

๐Ÿฅก Takeaway:

- Quality and diversity of the talks: they have been of high quality and appreciated (95% of perfect or good content level ). For example, new session topics such as supply chain security or boot security have been very well received.
- Lack of conference budget given by large tech companies to speakers: we will monitor if it is a structural move from these corps to put cost on the conference side, or not. We don’t endorse this move to transfer their travel budget on the conference/sponsor side.

135 people registered (2022: 156), 108 came (103). So the no-show rate fell to 20% vs 33% in 2022.A vast majority of people attended all along the three days.

๐Ÿฅก Takeaway:
- Low no-show rate & attendance: we have been really pleased to lower the no-show rate to 20% which is a good value for a free entrance conference. It has also been a real pleasure to have a majority of people attending all along the event.
- Communication: nevertheless, in 2024 we’re going to improve our communication to target 150-200 registrations.
- Streaming: it has been stable and really used this year (152, 159 and 80 online connections on the 3 days for an average watching time of 25 min).

100% of the attendees described their experience as perfect or good and all of them declare that, according to this year’s experience, they would like to come back in 2024. We also have seen a lot of warmth, exchange and enthusiasm among attendees! Figures come from the post-event survey.

We make this event in order to see collaborations between developers and researchers emerge during and after the conference:
- Collaboration: this year we have seen a feature born during Q/A: including OpenWRT images in CIRCL Hashlookup service and free software. We track such collaborations on our achievements page, have a look! main-screen
- Podcast: Maya Costantini has been invited after her talk at PTS23 to speak about Sigstore during an episode of the FR podcast NoLimitSecu.

๐Ÿฅก Takeaway:
- We are very pleased to see year after year a very good level of exchange and collaboration.
- We were also really happy to see speakers giving their first talk at PTS crossing the road of seasoned speakers. And when it is a shared feeling by these speakers, it is even better. Illustration by the feedback received from Rรฉmi Matasse aka @remsio (Synacktiv): โ€œThank you for your investment I’m really glad PTS was the first event I attended as a speaker :)โ€

Dear speakers, attendees, sponsors and partners, we really want to thank you for your support which made all of this possible ๐Ÿ™
We really hope the results of this edition will encourage you to come back and be part of the aventure of Pass the SALT 2024 ๐Ÿ’š

2. Detailed event analysis


- 135 people booked their seats.
In 2022 they were 156.
- 108 people finally came to the conference.
In 2022: 103.
- No-show rate: 20%.
In 2022, it was 33%.
This brings us back to the Pre-COVID rate. We are really happy about this!

We have faced a real fear of closed spaces among some attendees but also among some potential speakers (directly confirmed by some of them). COVID period impacts are not totally gone!

But, for the low number of registrations, the problem is also on our side. It has been confirmed by several feedbacks from attendees: our communication came late, reached not enough people and totally ignored the local cybersecurity groups around Lille (IRL).

๐Ÿ› ๏ธ Improvements for 2024:
As pointed out in the synthesis, we are going to reinforce our communication by:
- starting it earlier ;
- using more diverse social networks ;
- and pushing information to local IRL cybersecurity groups around Lille .

Language: attendees that can speak French: 90% (2022: 91%).
source: booking form
Since the COVID period, we have not fully recovered our audience usually coming from Germany, Netherlands or Belgium. We need to push more communication toward these potential attendees. But it is not an easy task because we do not have a lot of connections in these countries.

Share of attendees that have already attended Pass the SALT: 44% (2022: 28%).
source: booking form
We are reaching a good level of people that have already attended the event in the past, which is a good sign in our opinion. But a majority of them are newcomers which is good too ๐Ÿ™‚ . Not a perfect balance but not far!

source : booking form
- private sector: 60% (2022: 55%)
- public sector: 21% (15%)
- students: 8% (19%)
- academic: 7% (8%)
- others: 4% (3%)

Conference content

The event took place at the Lille Polytech engineering school from the 3rd to 5th of July, 2023.
- 22 talks (35-min or 20-min long - 22 in 2022) ;
- 3 workshops (5 in 2022) with in particular a great success among the attendees of the Scapy workshop ;
- New: 1 keynote and 1 closing talk. 2023 is the second year in a row we have a keynote, with the addition of a closing talk this year. We are really pleased with this because it is not so obvious for such a small event like Pass the SALT to set up these ones ;

Speakers geographical distribution:
- France : 74% (77% in 2022)
- Europe: 22% (23%)
- Rest of the world: 4% (0%)

Talks have been streamed all along the 3 days.
Average watching duration per connection: 25 min. It matches approximately with the duration of a talk. It means that people are using the streaming to attend the talk they want. It is another way to attend PTS and we are happy to reach such attendees figures.

Monday Tuesday Wednesday
Number of online connections 152 159 80

Video recordings:
Videos of the talks have been put online each evening. It almost can be seen as a normal/boring thing but if you look around at others conferences, even far bigger and professionaly organized ones, videos publishing can often be really delayed! We are very proud of this very fast publishing ๐Ÿš€ only being possible due to hard work from our video team and video partners ๐Ÿ’ช

Slides have been collected and made available at the end of the conference aside the corresponding videos and on our archive site.

Analysis of the 2023 edition content

Pass the SALT talks selection model
We mix a public call for paper (CFP) and a small number of invited talks.
Why doing it that way?
Running a public CFP allows everybody to submit and brings more diversity into the talks and speakers lineup. On the other hand, invited talks are a way for us to give exposure to topics and/or speakers that, according to the organization team, deserve it. However, invited talks are an adjustment variable and the vast majority (>80%) of the event content comes from the CFP. Invited talks have to be seen as a โ€œDirector cutโ€ feature for the organization team in order to give a โ€œcolorโ€ to its event ๐Ÿ˜‡.

Acceptation rate

Year Submissions Accepted Invited talks among accepted ones Acceptation Rate
2023 45 25 3 (12%) 55.5%
2022 39 27 5 (18.5%) 69.2%
2022 39 27 5 (18.5%) 69.2%
2019 46 35 3 (12.0%) 76.0%
2018 37 29 4 (14.0%) 78.3%

2023 Highlights

- Number of proposals: we are back to Pre-COVID period figures, which is a good point ;

- Quality: as each year, we have to deal with a relatively constant number of proposals which are out of scope of our CFP constraints (Security and Free Software). But outside this fact, the quality of the proposals has been good to very good ;

- Sessions:

. Pass the SALT is a single-track conference (with workshops done in parallel of the talks). We group talks into sessions (pentest, hardware and low level, network security etc) in order to provide to attendees, IRL and through streaming, a comfortable way to attend the event ;

. New: this year, in order to give exposure to two security hot topics, we launched 2 new sessions about boot security and supply chain security. They have been very well received by the audience as we can see on the feedback form results below.


- Speakers: as previously said, like last year, we had hard times to convince foreign speakers to come to our conference due to two main causes:
. Some of them told us that they have ot restarted going to conferences due to fears or new habits in this post COVID period.
. Important 2023 new fact:
A lot of the large tech companies seem to have decided to drastically reduce the conference budget of their employees. The budget cuts impact all types of employees, even main developers of major FLOSS projects. These companies want the conferences to pay for the travel costs of their employees. This huge travel budget reduction can be correlated with massive layoffs seen during the same period among these companies. We hope the situation will improve in the near future. We will monitor it closely because it impacts us heavily and we don’t want to endorse this new pressure put on conferences. In other terms it is not the role of our sponsors to cover the costs of those other companies that are making huge profits and do not want to pay for the visibility of their own employees.

Attendees and Speakers Feedback

All the graphics/figures below are coming from the post-event survey.

Attendees feedback

Event experience
The general event experience of our attendees has been very good (100% good or perfect).


When we asked which aspects of the organization were convenient, attendees replied they appreciated almost all of them. The 4 pauses per day and the social event have been particularly appreciated by attendees and speakers to interact with new and old friends.

Talks and workshops
About the talks and workshops, the attendees seem to have also appreciated the content level. People have appreciated:
. talks grouped into sessions
. technical expertise demonstrated by speakers
. the 15+ rumps (lightning talks)
. new sessions (boot security, supply chain security)


๐Ÿ› ๏ธ List of suggested improvements by 2022 attendees for 2023 edition:
- Better management of the workshops registration: in 2022, it was done locally through a manual registration on a paper sheet with no guarantee to have seats before coming.
- Streaming:
. Better indication on the website for easy jumping into the streaming,
. Better streaming monitoring in order to limit its disruption length when it happens. It happened twice and only noticed once, reported by viewers.

๐Ÿ‘ Answers provided during the 2023 edition:
- Workshops:
. New: We have set up an online registration for workshops in parallel to the event registration. Registered people had to come 5 min minimum before the start of their workshop. After this deadline, the organization gave back the unused registered slots to local attendees who would like to attend the workshop but did not register upfront.
- Streaming:
. New: We modified the front page of the website in order to provide easy and clear access to the streaming,
. New: We set up a new Signal group between the organization and the video teams in order to provide better monitoring and to be more responsive in case of problems. It worked very well and we managed to provide a very good global video experience to online attendees.

๐Ÿ› ๏ธ List of suggested improvements by 2023 attendees for 2024 edition:
- Clearer practical info page on the website ;
- Improve the event communication ;
- Improve the catering offer during the midday break (especially veggie)
Organization team explanation: we had to face a cancellation of one food truck only a few days before the event. In the hurry of finding a new one, we forgot to ask the new one to provide a veggie option in their menus. We will try to be more rigorous on our midday break management in order to provide a better experience to our attendees.
- Provide a way to interact with speakers after their talk (feedback, evaluation etc).

Speakers feedback

On the speaker’s side, the event seems to have been a very good experience.


Good points that were mentioned:
- the quality of the exchanges between the speakers and the audience ;
- the high level of expertise demonstrated on stage all along the 2,5 days ;
- rich moments lived during the speakers dinner.


๐Ÿ› ๏ธ List of suggested improvements by 2022 speakers for 2023 edition
- Outcome of the CFP: it would be useful to receive as a speaker (rejected or accepted) a detailed overview of the different evaluations of the proposal by the reviewers. It would be a way to improve as a submitter and as a speaker.
- Speakers dinner without mandatory seating
- Provide a hotel list

๐Ÿ‘ Answers provided during the 2023 edition:
- CFP: new we provided feedback from the review committee for all submissions, accepted or not, in order to improve the future submissions of the speakers and/or to guide the speaker for its accepted talk delivery on stage.
- Speakers dinner: it has been held in a room where you can sit but also stand up and circulate from people to people. Unfortunately, the room was noisy and not large enough to be fully convenient. We will try to improve this point next year.
- Hotel list: new on the dedicated web page to the speakers, we create a section providing the list of the hotels we already have used in Lille, with our appreciation.

๐Ÿ› ๏ธ List of suggested improvements by 2023 speakers for 2024 edition
- Better Wi-Fi experience: we definitely failed in providing a good Wi-Fi connection to our speakers, which led to some failures during demos for example. We apologize for this and we will work harder next year to provide a much better experience on this aspect ;
- A way to get feedback from attendees about their talk ;
- A closer feedback screen during talks and rumps.

3. Conclusion

Due to the support of all sponsors, partners, speakers and attendees, we have been able to make Pass the SALT happen again. And we think it happened in a very good way!

Attendees and speakers have really enjoyed the event. They acknowledged the good balance between the technical expertise, the diversity of the security topics covered and the rich moments of interactions lived between all participants.

We try to improve the event each year by listening to the attendees and speakers feedback and taking actions to answer it. We also try to innovate. For example, we introduced two new initiatives to our event this year:

. New Privacy: during the check-in, we proposed to the attendees who do not want to appear online, to get a lanyard with a special color (azure). We then explained this specificity to all the attendees during the launching talk in order to ensure they respect it when taking pictures.

. New Speaker gift: we decided to provide to all speakers (and org volunteers!) a small bag with some gifts produced in France (some chocolates, local biscuits and a notebook) in order to thank them for their work and their participation in the event.

We hope you have found this report useful and that its reading has reinforced your belief that being part of it, as a speaker, a sponsor and/or an attendee, helps to support the coordination and growth of the Security and Free Software community ๐Ÿค

See you next year at Pass the SALT 2024 ๐Ÿคž ๐Ÿ’š