Microsoft’s Sarah Armstrong-Smith On Cybersecurity, Digital Transformation And Diversity

Sarah Armstrong-Smith is a highly respected cybersecurity, digital transformation and crisis management expert. She was appointed the Chief Security Advisor at Microsoft Europe in 2020, kickstarting her career with the technology company during a historic challenge – the Covid-19 pandemic.

Named one of the Most Influential Women in UK Tech and Most Influential Women in Cybersecurity, Sarah is also a firm supporter of female representation in technology industries. She is regularly booked for corporate conferences and events, to speak from the perspective of a woman in business and highlight the importance of diverse thoughts.

With the support of The Female Motivational Speakers Agency, we sat down with Sarah to learn more about digital transformation, cybersecurity and workplace diversity.

You have been the Chief Security Advisor at Microsoft Europe since 2020, what has been your proudest achievement in this role?

“For me, I actually joined Microsoft one week after the UK went into lockdown. So I’ve actually spent my entire Microsoft career to date from this very office! It’s been quite interesting for me to be literally in the middle of a global pandemic, joining a new company, but also seeing the inner workings of Microsoft.

“Throughout everything going on, we had to keep Microsoft up as an entity – Microsoft has over 160,000 people worldwide. But they also had to make sure the current customers were supported, and that’s all of the global Cloud and the data centres and all of those types of things. Because of the pandemic, we’ve seen a massive acceleration to the Cloud as well, particularly collaboration sites like Teams, and those types of things.

“We almost got a triple whammy, if you like, of all of these things coming together; the capacity that was required, the help and support with all of these things that have been going on. To see that from the inside and sort of seeing how Microsoft rose to the occasion and how they help customers has been phenomenal.

“For me, it doesn’t really matter how bad things get. We’ve talked about some of these big, big crisis moments that we’ve had over the years – I always focus on the opportunities. So, ‘what can we learn this?’, ‘what can we do better?’ And that’s where I get really excited. I’m really proud to be able to work for such an amazing company.”

Having worked on the Millennium Bug, what did you learn from the potential threat?

“I think having a background in business continuity has really enabled me to think about the big picture, those worst-case scenarios – ‘what’s the worst thing that could happen?’.

“We need to think wider, we need to think about incidents that are not just relevant to our own company, but issues that go cross-sector and even across the world. That scope and scale are really important, and some of these major events have also triggered global changes, as well.

“So I think back, and I would say 9/11 was a really good example of a major incident, at massive scale, that we probably never seen before, how that was televised and the shock that came with it. It really brought home the impact of terrorism, and again, how important business continuity is at that scale.

“I bring that forward to what’s going on now, the global pandemic and this crisis, it’s really brought home just how much we’re all connected to each other and how dependent we are.

“That’s from small businesses up to those large enterprises as well. So, ultimately, when we’re thinking about these threats – it’s not just about business continuity but cybersecurity attacks as well – it’s really about thinking holistically, thinking much, much, much wider.

“It’s really about having resilience to all of these types of attacks and types of threats.”

As a cybersecurity expert, what is the biggest threat businesses face and what advice do you have for them?

“It’s very interesting. We think about cybercriminals and the type of attackers, and they’re inherently opportunistic – they absolutely love a crisis. And what a crisis we’ve seen over the last 12 to 18 months! So, they’re really taking advantage of this.