Sian John joined Microsoft as Chief Security Advisor at the end of last year, and shortly afterwards was awarded an MBE for services to cybersecurity. Making sure you stay safe online is important, so the UK News Centre sat down with Sian to talk about what you can do to protect yourself, as well as her role and favourite technology.
Role Chief Security Advisor
Lives North-west London
Family A brother who lives in Devon (he runs a pub that they joint-own)
Pets None (“I would love a dog but I can’t fit one in with my lifestyle”)
Hobbies Classical history (studied for an Open University degree in Humanities and Classical Studies) and walking (walked Hadrian’s Wall and just finished the Capital Ring).
Congratulations on your MBE
Thank you. I was in a hotel in Redmond about to head to Microsoft’s headquarters when I got the email from The Cabinet Office. My first reaction was “crikey”. I was slightly distracted for the rest of the day but had to carry on as usual because I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone. I couldn’t even tell my family over Christmas. I’m very chuffed.
You were given the award in recognition of your work in cybersecurity
I’ve worked in IT for more than 25 years. I worked in the Houses of Parliament, looking after IT for the guys who carry the mace. When I joined they had one computer and loads of terminals, so I moved them to PCs, as well as putting in passcodes and fixing systems. From there I moved to a second job at Parliament, running the internet gateway – the firewall and mail security. I was there four years and then went to Reuters, before joining a consultancy firm. Then I went to Symantec and was there for 12 years doing something very similar to what I’m doing at Microsoft – talking to customers about what they want to do, their strategy, what they want to achieve; taking the stuff people have already bought and making the best out of it.
What made you join Microsoft?
I like where Microsoft has gone over the past few years. It has baked security in to its products so people can use security to unlock their productivity. Microsoft understands it shouldn’t be a choice between one or the other; work should be a secure AND productive experience. I’ve seen a change in customers, who now question why they need software from any other company.
Are customers more aware of cybersecurity these days?
My job has become slightly easier because people now know what we do. The challenge today is: do they care in the right way or are they headline driven? The danger is that people prepare for the last cybersecurity incident and ignore what the future risks are that could affect them. People should learn lessons from hacks and breaches but use those to work in a better way, because the next cybersecurity issue will be something different. The temptation is for people to go out and buy shiny toys, because people in security can then prove the value of the money they are spending. It’s like insurance – if you do your job well, nothing happens. One of the most secure things you can do is to install patches to make sure your system is up to date, but it’s also one of the least cool things.
What are the biggest risks?
If you can protect your identity information, you’ve probably done most of what you need to do.
What are your aims at Microsoft?
My ambition is to feel like I’m making a difference. I’m currently working with customers to help them get the security outcomes they need with Microsoft technology. I like going to work every day and feeling like I’m making a difference to customers’ understanding of what Microsoft does, not just from a product point of view, but how the company can help them to secure their environment and achieve what they want to do.
Everything you need to know about Microsoft and security
What are you most proud of?
Getting young people interested in security and technology. I’ve done things with TeenTech, and last year went to the final of CyberFirstGirls, which GCHQ ran.
What’s your favourite Microsoft product?
Office 365, because it allows me to email on the go. It’s about the mobility, the productivity and the functionality.
What was the first piece of tech you got excited about?
I remember being five or six and my dad bringing home a BigTrak. He was sitting reading the manual, trying to figure out how it worked, looked up and the vehicle was doing loop-the-loops and racing in and out of the lounge. I had just started to press buttons. The secret to my career has been reading the instructions but in that case I didn’t.