SANS Institute is thrilled to announce that per January 1st 2023, Professor Ciaran Martin joins our organisation as Director of the global SANS CISO Network and Summits EMEA. Professor Martin is most well known in our industry for founding the UK’s world-leading National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) and helping to manage the response to thousands of cyber-attacks against the UK, including the so-called Wannacry attack against the NHS in 2017. As Professor Martin joins us and with his extensive knowledge of the industry, we sat down with him to ask him a few questions as he settles into his new role with SANS.
What are you looking forward to the most about joining the SANS Institute at the start of this new year?
I’ve long admired SANS. The Institute is a force for good in the global cyber security industry. Pretty much everyone I respect in this industry will say that. Its contribution to both technical and general education in cyber security has been enormous. SANS was a great partner and supporter when I was in Government and it remains that strong partner today.
So, it is an honour to be asked to join the Institute and continue to help built relationships with Governments, businesses and the cyber security industry, across the world.
What do you hope to achieve in your role with the SANS Institute?
My mission in life is to improve the security of our digital environment.
A key part of doing that is helping people cut through the hype and fear in cyber security and help them take sensible, well-informed decisions to manage risks. So, I want to keep up to date with all the major developments in cyber security and find ways of helping people respond to them sensibly. I want to help educate and prepare people, organisations and governments globally against the ever-evolving threats and risks our digital environment brings.
What role do you see SANS Institute play in this current environment? More specifically, how important a role will the SANS CISO Network play?
SANS generally can and will do three things. One, it will keep on top of a realistic assessment of the threat. Second, it can teach thousands of people what to do about it, ranging from the highly technical to the much more organisational and behavioural. Finally, and this is what the SANS CISO Network is about, it can convene an astounding array of expertise and practitioners to work out what we need to do to make the digital realm safer.
Specifically, the CISO Network is vital. CISOs are going to be the frontline of cyber security in the years ahead. How they present risk, how they talk to their boards, how much funding they get, what they buy with it, how they do and don’t work together will be some of the most important determinants of how safe our online environment is in a few years’ time. Having a common, safe and expert environment where we can talk and learn from each other freely about the major trends is a way in which SANS’s CISO Network can make a real difference.
What does the threat security landscape look like across the UK & Europe, particularly post the pandemic, and how equipped do you feel business are to deal with current and future threats?
It breaks down into old and new challenges (and, as we look ahead, opportunities).
In terms of the old, we still have a massive problem with fundamentally insecure legacy hardware and software. Added to that we have huge swathes of the world where competent hackers can exploit that, whether they’re working for a government or an organised crime group. So, we still have the problems of ransomware – as we saw big time in 2021 with Colonial Pipeline, Kaseya, Irish healthcare – and with data breaches as we saw in Australia in late 2022. And we still need to manage the risks around critical infrastructure and existing tech. Russia may not have fired much cyber against the West in 2022, but Ukraine’s heroic cyber defenders shows what we might be up against in the future, and how good you need to be to succeed.
In terms of the new, there’s as much opportunity as risk. Look back five years ago: everyone was saying IoT was going to be a security nightmare because there’d be so many more devices connected to the Internet. That was true. But we forgot that we could do something about it. We made sure companies weren’t allowed to sell defective IoT, no more than you can sell unsafe cars. The law came into force in December. This is good news, and we should look at this as a model of how to manage the onset of new technologies safely.
In terms of corporate readiness, it varies. The era of ‘raising awareness’ is over. For me, it’s now about a deal between the board and the CISO. What risk are you prepared to tolerate and what won’t you tolerate? If I give you this amount of budget and support, what can you do to manage risk? And so on. As every ransomware case shows us, there is huge and often seemingly random divergence between different businesses’ levels of readiness.
That dialogue between the CISO and the Board is one of the most important things in cyber security.
What are some of the key challenges you see businesses face today relating to cyber security skills and training?
One thing I am passionate about is not being defeatist on skills. I’m tired of hearing the stories about “there are x million vacancies in cyber” and so on. I was told repeatedly not to try to attempt something like the NCSC because there weren’t enough skills in government to staff it and not enough skills in the economy to absorb what it would do. Whilst I would always have loved more people in both areas, there were enough talented and highly engaged people to make a lot of progress.
So, one trend I want to see is a more realistic discussion about what we need. We don’t need everyone to be cyber ninjas. But we do need more general skills.
Here are some trends we might see:
- More, and useful pressure on technical people to explain what their solutions do in a way people can generally understand and compare with other ideas;
- Whilst we need technical skills to be the core of this, the broadening of cyber security as a discipline involving economists, behavioural scientists etc. will continue
How do you and SANS hope to work facilitating that discussion about what skills are needed and bringing more talent into the industry, both inside the UK as across the globe?
My personal view is that we should not over-analyse it. We should instead just go and do something useful to build the talent pool.
The strategic solution to this for the UK (and other governments) is a multi-year, probably a decade or two, refocusing of the national education system. But SANS can’t do that, and neither can I. I couldn’t even do it as head of the NCSC.
But we can help in a positive and constructive way. We have to find ways of bringing more people in who will have high aptitude but are put off by the barriers to entry sometimes in our profession. We need to get even more people without technical background onto our courses. We need to do our bit to bridge the horrendous and damaging gender gap in cyber security. Don’t give up on the idea that mid-career people might either switch to cyber security, or at least know more about it in their non-cyber jobs. Great examples of this are initiatives like TechVets or the SANS academies and programmes we can or have already set up for scholars, girls, young adults, diversities or military Vveterans. There’s a place for everyone in this industry, and we can help anyone on their way into cyber.
If you could change or accelerate a change in the UK Cyber landscape, what would that be and why?
I would love to see a transformation in the effectiveness of the cyber insurance market. We seem to have raced from an era where people were paying premiums for risks that would never materialise to one where some cyber risk is seen as uninsurable. I’d love to see a dialogue between the insurance industry, the expert cyber security industry, business groups and the Government to get the market working properly because insurance could really help drive the sort of behaviour we need in organisations. I know some senior insurance industry figures, like the head of Zurich, are saying that cyber is becoming uninsurable. Maybe that’s right, though I wonder. But let’s have the conversation. Because we should either make it work or give up; we shouldn’t just try to muddle through ineffectively.
How does broader collaboration with businesses and government working in partnership foster better cybersecurity outcomes?
I think two things in 2022 have shown that trying to work out exact delineations between government and industry in cyber security is a bit of a waste of time. The mobilisation of capabilities to defend Ukraine, where private companies just threw themselves in, is one example.
The other is Australia’s data breaches – when it comes to a crisis over nearly half the population’s healthcare records, in the heat of the moment few people care where the exact boundary between public and private risk is. So, we need to get used to working with each other and preferably find ways of doing it effectively before a crisis forces us to.
How far would you say the relationship between SANS Institute and the NCSC is helping to protect British government and businesses, and why?
I can only speak to my time there so what follows is more than two years old!
But while I was in Government, SANS’ work with the NCSC helped in two ways. One, it increased the capabilities of UK plc and those of our allies, very specifically, by training so many people to such a high quality.
Second, its non-commercial work like the organistion of the CyberThreat Summit in partnership with the NCSC brought together massive expertise with the NCSC’s experts and partners in a really mutually beneficial way.
CyberThreat is coming up on January 16th and 17th and you were part of the first edition. In your own words, what do you think makes this event so special to the cyber security community? And what do you hope to see at this upcoming edition?
First of all I’m glad to know it’s still happening!
The sheer quality of the content at the conference meant it was the one thing that my operations team at the NCSC always looked forward to. When we first set-up the Summit, there was a real gap in having a truly technical conference for practitioners who really are on the front-line defending networks. Since then, CyberThreat aims to equip both UK as worldwide practitioners with the skills and knowledge required to defend against cyber threats and also addresses the cyber skills gap we addressed before, by welcoming, developing and growing talent. That’s what makes CyberThreat special.
More about professor Ciaran Martin:
Ciaran Martin founded the UK’s world-leading National Cyber Security Centre and headed it for the first four years of its existence. Currently, after stepping down from his role with NCSC at the end of August 2020, Martin holds the position of Professor of Practice in the Management of Public Organisations at Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Government, advises several private sector organisations on cybersecurity strategies and is one of the leading global authorities in the field of cyber security policy.
The NCSC, part of GCHQ, where Martin served as an executive board member for six and a half years, is regarded as the world leader among public authorities for cybersecurity. The International Telecommunications Union now ranks the UK as the #1 country for cybersecurity because of the NCSC’s work.
Under Martin’s leadership, the NCSC took the lead in managing more than 2,000 nationally significant cyber-attacks against the UK, including the so-called Wannacry attack against the NHS in 2017. He led the detection work that prompted the Government to call out, for the first time, cyber aggression from Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. He helped the NCSC transform the Government’s relationship with business on cybersecurity. In 2018, in a keynote at the CBI’s cybersecurity conference, he launched a board toolkit with five essential questions corporate leaders needed to understand. As a global cybersecurity leader, he travelled to more than 30 countries on five continents building partnerships with Government, national security and corporate leaders. At the NCSC he was a much sought-after guest of the UK’s major corporate boards.
Ciaran Martin believes the essence of good cybersecurity is demystifying a complex subject and finding a way and a language for the specialists to engage with the leadership. That becomes more and more important as new technologies and technology platforms – 5G, the Internet of Things, quantum – become the new reality.
Martin is also a 23-year veteran of the UK Government, working directly with five Prime Ministers and a variety of senior Ministers from three political parties. He held senior positions at HM Treasury and the Cabinet Office as well as GCHQ. He was head of the Cabinet Secretary’s Office and led the official negotiations that led to the agreed terms and rules for the Scottish independence referendum.
In 2020 Ciaran Martin was appointed CB by Her Majesty The Queen and has received a range of awards domestically and internationally in recognition of his cybersecurity work. He also been recognised and honoured in the United States and elsewhere across the world.