Q&A: Ciaran Martin

Ciaran Martin’s proudest achievement, unsurprisingly and deservingly, is setting up the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) “and at least partly changing the narrative about cybersecurity in this country.” Running eight marathons should also feature quite high on his list of accolades. His impressive contributions, both as a civil servant and directly to the cybersecurity industry, more than make up for the fact that he has a lifetime ban from Disneyland...

If you could build a ‘dream team’, who would you choose and why?

I had an all-star team at the NCSC. If you take Ian Levy (tech expert); Paul Chichester (ops leader); Clare Gardiner (brilliant at strategy, outreach and leadership); and Nicola Hudson (the best communications director I saw in government), then that’s a heck of a team.

What was your route into cybersecurity? 

Edward Snowden, seriously. The crisis he created meant that GCHQ needed more policy and communications skills, which had been my previous government career. So, for some reason, they sent for me. I told them not to appoint me given my lack of technical background, but when you sit with Ian Levy and Paul Chichester for hours, you realize that a non-technical and technical combination can work really well, and we went on to build something I am incredibly proud of.

Tell me about a time you screwed up

When I left [my role] as constitution director to take up the GCHQ post at the end of 2014, Nick Clegg made a speech at my leaving ‘do,’ listing all the policy failures I’d been responsible for. Not entirely my fault. What was entirely my fault was failing to spot early enough just how politicized 5G would become and plan accordingly.

Who do you really admire in the industry? 

I’m a huge fan of Katie Moussouris in the US and Brian Honan in Ireland. In UK government, obviously the NCSC team; and in the US, I think both Jen Easterly at CISA and her predecessor Chris Krebs are rock stars when explaining cybersecurity from a government position. I also like the way Jude McCorry has brought people together in Scotland from across the different sectors.

Quick-fire Q&A

  • What’s the best thing about your job? The students.
  • And the worst? Not having anyone to manage my diary for the first time in 15 years.
  • Dream job? A US Supreme Court judge. 
  • Dream client? The European Commission on revamping its approach to tech regulation.
  • What’s the most misunderstood thing about information security? The way it is often presented as a war. It isn’t. It’s an everyday risk
  • Guilty secret? I was given a lifetime ban from Disneyland Paris in 1992 for jumping into the fountain on a hot day after a few too many fermented refreshments.

Bio:  Ciaran Martin is a Professor of Practice at the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford. Before this role, Ciaran was a civil servant for 23 years, the last six of which saw him set up and lead the National Cyber Security Centre, part of GCHQ.

Follow Ciaran @Ciaranmartinoxf

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