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RSAC17: Former MI5 head calls on infosec community to make world safer

In a digital era, the information security community has a key role in helping to make the world a safer place, according to former MI5 boss Stella Rimington

Former MI5 director general Stella Rimington has called on the information security industry to help make the world a safer place.

“The world is probably a more troubled and insecure place than it has been in the past eight decades,” she told the 2017 RSA Conference in San Francisco.

“As someone who has lived through the Second World War, the Cold War, and the War on Terror, I think the world is now in a very troubled state,” she said.

Rimington said older generations are now relying on the younger information security community to make the world a safer, simpler and kinder place for the generations to come.

Recounting some of the highlights of her career, Rimington described how she was recruited into the male-dominated British intelligence world, worked her way to the top of MI5 and moved into business.

In the pre-internet age, she said, surveillance meant following someone, and interception of communication meant listening into phone calls and steaming open letters.

Touching on the topic of diversity in the workplace, which is still a concern for the IT and information security issue today, Rimington said UK anti-sex discrimination legislation in the 1970s opened up career possibilities for women in the intelligence community.

“I am a strong believer of diversity in all kinds of organisations and companies,” she said.

After being appointed as director general of MI5, Rimington said she pursued a strategy of “openness” in an attempt to remove the mystery by showing what the role of a secret service is in a democracy.

As part of this initiative, she delivered the Dimbleby Lecture in 1994, choosing as her topic: Security and Democracy - Is There a Conflict?

“And 23 years later, people are still talking about how far is it appropriate for the government to intrude into our private lives – the Edward Snowden question – in order to protect us.

“Of course, the answer is that it depends on the seriousness of the threat that presents itself to us, and the more serious the threat, the more important it is for the government to be able to intrude further into our private lives in order to protect us,” said Rimington.

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