Anne-Marie Eklund Löwinder is an IT security expert who, right now, is teaching us how the internet works while we eat our breakfast. On the back of Arla milk cartons she explains what DNS is.
“For me it’s one of the cornerstones of the web. But most people don’t know that it exists or how vulnerable it actually is,” says Anne-Marie.
It’s thanks to DNS that we don’t need to remember that IVA’s website address is actually 184.108.40.206. We just have to type in www.iva.se in our web browser. DNS (domain name system) can be compared to a telephone catalogue.
“The problem is that you can’t be certain the answer you get is the right one. If a hacker manipulates the answer your computer gets to a DNS question, it could, for example, be possible to intercept your emails or get your computer to connect to the wrong server,” says Anne-Marie.
This is why she makes regular trips to Culpeper outside Washington DC in the US. As one of seven crypto officers, she is often present at so-called key ceremonies which take place every six months. At these events new digital signatures are created. Their purpose is to guarantee that the answers from DNS are actually reliable.
It was pure chance that her career ended up being in internet security. As a 16-year old she was tired of school and started working as a stenographer for Stockholm District Court. After five years she switched employer and started working at the Swedish Council for Higher Education. Some of her colleagues thought that she should get a higher education. Anne-Marie took their advice. After having completed upper secondary maths at an adult education college she started thinking about the next step.
“I checked what my grades were good enough to study and discovered that I could be accepted as a 25-5 candidate. There was a special acceptance quota for people over the age of 25 with five years of work experience like me. Studying law was one option, but I really didn’t want to do that. Business administration would involve too many numbers. I was about to apply to study political science, but then someone said that systems science would be a good fit for me.”
At that time systems science was a new university programme and, looking back, Anne-Marie admits she had no idea what she was applying for. But by 1981 she sent her first email as a new student at the Department of Administrative Data Processing (ADP) at Stockholm University. Her decision to study there would lay the foundation for her entire career.
The security courses she took made her realise how interesting and important working on security is. After working at the Swedish Agency for Public Management and with the IT Commission, she got an offer to be a project manager for what at that time was called the Foundation for Internet Infrastructure (Stiftelsen för Internetinfrastruktur). She subsequently entered her current role as Chief Information Security Officer at the Internet foundation in Sweden.
“In a way security work is about the same things today as it was back then. We have to make sure that data and systems contain the right information, that only those authorised can access them, that it’s possible to see who is making changes and that they are accessible. But there were fewer systems, fewer connections and fewer users before. Today everything is much more complex,” says Anne-Marie.
We often read in the media about employers desperately hunting for programmers. But that talent shortage is, according to Anne-Marie, nothing compared to the lack of security expertise. This is why she often appears as a speaker in external contexts to educate people about security in general, but also to spark the interest of students in a job in the security field in the hope that a few of them will follow in her footsteps.
There is no indication that security issues will diminish in importance. The opposite is true.
“Information and IT security is extremely important. In recent years a lot of equipment has been connected to the internet and the infrastructure is therefore so important. It needs to be more robust than it is today. This is something we are focusing a lot on within IVA’s Digitalisation project.”
It would be easy to assume that she might feel a sense of hopelessness in her work. New security threats are coming all the time. Meanwhile, Anne-Marie and other security experts have to constantly remind programmers about the basics, and remind private individuals about having good passwords.
“I’m a bit like Sisyphus; I love rolling that boulder up the hill. And every time I get positive feedback it makes me so happy. I actually believe that change is happening in the right direction. The retirees I was speaking to at Avesta library the other week knew that they have to be careful with their bank ID codes. Awareness about security is increasing all the time.”
ANNE-MARIE EKLUND LÖWINDER
Education: Systems Science degree, Stockholm University 1984
Career: Swedish Agency for Public Management, the IT Commission and since 2001, Chief Information Security Officer at the Internet Foundation in Sweden.
Distinctions: Named by ICANN as a Trusted Community Representative as a Crypto Officer in 2010. Årets säkerhetsprofil (Security Profile of the Year) 2012. Inducted in 2013 into the Internet Hall of Fame for her work with DNSSEC. CENTR Award for Contributor of the year 2013. Became a member of IVA’s Division XII – Information Technology in 2015. Recipient of the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise’s Security Scholarship in 2018.