Written by Megan Lupton. Interview by Mark Matthews
Former Head of Cybersecurity for the British Army, Major General Jonathan Shaw, is one of the top speakers for Cyber Security Awareness Month events and other cyber-themed conferences. He uses his decades of experience to teach businesses and organisations how to protect themselves against cyber threats, a topic that he explores in this exciting interview.
In your role as Head of the Defence Cyber Security Programme at the Ministry of Defence, what was your proudest achievement?
“I think [my proudest achievement] was going from someone who knew nothing about cyber to someone who could talk quite knowledgeably about the conceptual side of cyber. I mean, cyber clearly has a deeply technical aspect to it, but what I learned very quickly was that the implications of cyber technology and how it’s affecting all our lives are more important.
“It was that ability to talk analogue about a digital subject and make it meaningful to people who didn’t understand that, I think, was my greatest achievement.”
What do you predict will be the “next big” style of cyber-attack?
“Security of cyberspace is an insecure medium, as I said, so much so that the Russians actually hacked into the NSA’s database and found all of the backdoors. And so, the Russians have a whole list now of backdoors they can exploit – we should expect exploitation.
“The other thing that’s immediate is that everyone’s getting really hooked on blockchain technology as if it’s some kind of panacea and totally secure. It’s not, it has back doors, and it has been hacked. And this idea that suddenly blockchain makes cyberspace a secure environment is complete nonsense. So, watch out for that, longer-term.
“This isn’t so much a cybercrime attack; this is more a cultural question. We’re in an era of strategic, fundamental change. We have lived in the era of what some people call [the] United States’ digital colonialism. The United States has developed the technology, and the technology embodies Western values. So, in Britain, we haven’t been too concerned about it.
“But as the Pentagon’s Head of Cyber Security said on his retirement, ‘we’ve already lost the artificial intelligence battle, China is going to win that’. And so, what we’re seeing now is the start of the Chinese digital colonialism, and that’s going to fundamentally change the assumptions on which software is written. Those cultural features are going to really dominate us as we move into the AI era. To me, culturally, I find it very unsettling.”
To what extent can a national cyber-attack change our lives?
“You don’t have to look far for instances like that. I think the most dramatic was when Russia took offence at the Estonian government’s decision to move a statue of the Bronze Soldier from the centre of Tallinn to a graveyard. They felt that was an insult, so they basically turned off Estonia in 2007.
“They shut down their banking, they shut down their government, they shut down their media so they couldn’t even report on it. Basically, Russia sent a whole lot of botnets and DDoS attacks, which effectively shut down Estonia for weeks and months. That is why, curiously enough, Estonia is now the best practice for cybersecurity in Europe, if not the world, because they set up a cyber defence unit.
“The whole nation got involved because the whole nation realised that this is a really serious business and if you’re facing a big cyber-attack, it’s everyone’s responsibility to take part. If there’s one example that I would encourage everyone to look at, it’s Estonia’s response to the cyber-attack, because it shows not only the scale and seriousness of an attack like this, but it also shows the way that everyone is involved in this.”
If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?
“Nothing to do with cyber, really. It would be, ‘take opportunities and have more confidence in yourself’. I look back at the things I regret in life, the doors I didn’t open as opposed to the ones I did.
“Just have more confidence. Go for it. Life isn’t a rehearsal. Take control of your life and make the most of it, because it’s all out there and time goes very quickly. I’m looking back – I’m 63 now – and I’m thinking I’ve done some good things, but I could have done more.”
Megan has managed the internal content for Champions Speakers since 2019 when she joined the company as a Digital Copywriter. In 2020, she progressed to Content Executive, and only a year later, Megan was promoted to Senior Content Executive, where she now manages the Champions Speakers YouTube channel and PR outreach.
Continuing her passion for writing, Megan started a PhD at De Montfort University in October 2021. She previously earned her Bachelor of Arts in Film & Creative Writing at the University of Essex and her Masters of Arts in Creative Writing from Teesside University. In her current course, Megan is studying the ethics of such digital forms as podcasts and is conducting metafictional research on the creative process.
In her role, Megan has interviewed several exciting names including Dr Alex George and Sir Mo Farah. She is particularly passionate about LGBTQ+ pride and female empowerment, digital media and journalism – topics Megan enjoys writing about at Champions and researching for her PhD.