Kurt John: Living and Breathing Cybersecurity

Wednesday, June 12, 2019 1:45 pm EDT

On average, hacker attacks on computers with Internet access happen about every 39 seconds, affecting one in three Americans each year. Kurt John hasn’t fallen victim to that statistic, and he makes it his job to ensure that no one else does.

When Kurt was 12 a friend showed him how to get free Internet. From that moment on, he was fascinated by the World Wide Web. Kurt has followed this passion throughout his career and has reached what he sees as one of the greatest heights in his chosen path: Chief Cybersecurity Officer for Siemens USA.

“Society places a lot of trust in the things that we use, whether it's transportation, medical equipment or home appliances,” says Kurt. “In order to make sure that society works the way it should, that trust needs to be protected.”

Kurt is an integral part of building and protecting the trust that enables Siemens to continue to solve the world’s most complex problems. As Chief Cybersecurity Officer, working alongside an internal network of cyber experts, his responsibilities include overseeing the governance, strategy and implementation of Cybersecurity for Siemens USA’s products, solutions and infrastructure.

Siemens is taking a very planned, sustained and pragmatic approach to cybersecurity, Kurt says. “The largest threat Siemens is facing right now is the speed of innovation.”

Kurt will spend a significant amount of time and effort focused on making sure that the company will be ready to keep track with future cyber innovations. A key accomplishment in this respect is the continual expansion of the monitoring of cyber threats within Siemens operational technology, primarily in our factories. This is something that the industry has historically struggled to do, yet Siemens has made some great strides.

“Our factories are in a unique position to use advanced technology to understand potential threats on the horizon,” Kurt says, “and we’re on the forefront for being able to develop approaches for how to best address cybersecurity issues before they happen.”

But as much as cybersecurity calls for high tech, simple operational basics are also essential. Two of the key reasons Kurt says he’s never been hacked are strong passwords that he changes often and his use of two-factor authentication on every service that offers it, whether it's email or banking.

“Those precautions require a lot of personal diligence and consistency, which are core characteristics for any cybersecurity effort,” Kurt says. “You cannot ever let up, and you have to apply the same high quality of security everywhere.”

This is especially true when you consider that the most common method of attack takes advantage of human error, notably attributable to the fact that hackers can arrive right in a person’s inbox. Keeping a keen eye on emails is critical. Kurt says that if you cannot confirm clearly and quickly the source of an email, do not download any attachments and do not click on any embedded links. Be very wary of emails that seem to mimic other messages, or that suggest you’ve already had contact with the sender, even though you don’t recognize the sender.

At home, Kurt knows that one day he’ll have to have the conversation with his daughter, who’s just 18-months old, about safe online practices, while hoping to lead by example. And when he’s not avoiding public Wi-Fi, you can find him hiking, reading or indulging in his favorite genre of movies, science fiction, his favorite to date being Interstellar.

Jobs of the Future

By 2021, more than 300,000 cybersecurity job openings are expected, with postings up 74-percent over the past five years. Siemens currently has 14 open cybersecurity roles ranging from IT Cyber Security Manager to Cyber Security Data Analytics Expert. And while a technical background is essential, Kurt finds that a passion for the field and for people are the most critical requirements. Check out current Siemens opportunities.

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