Liliana Musetan

Head of Cybersecurity Unit at the General Secretariat at the Council of the European Union

What does a typical day of work look like for you?

My management and operational roles span business and technical functions. My days are atypical, and it is not unusual to move from a conference about cryptographic products to a session on cloud computing or a talk about cyber resources strategy. There will be team chats and messages, infographic drawings and presentations throughout the day. I’ll also work closely with key stakeholders and cybersecurity staff members to ensure everyone is on the same page.

What aspects of your career journey have taken you by surprise?

We have all heard the cliché that feeds this myth − cybersecurity is a field exclusive to men. Well, if there was ever a time for women to get into the field, that time is now.

Tell us about your first job (can be anything!) and one lesson you might have learned from it.

After obtaining an MSc in electronics and telecommunications, I worked in various IT roles within public administration as a network administrator and project manager. I assumed my career would always be in information technology. The twist came quickly in 1999 when I led my first investigation into a cyber espionage case. Surprisingly, I enjoyed partnering with key leaders across the organization. It was such an incredible pivot. It was not something I expected or planned, but it was the best twist in my career.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give your younger self about getting started in cyber?

You are the right woman for the right cyber job at the right time!

Tell us about the cyber project you're most proud of working on in your career.

One of the cybersecurity projects I’m most proud of so far was when I organized the European Cybersecurity Month 2022 kick-off for the first time. The event marked a decade of joint outreach work by the EU institutions to promote and strengthen cybersecurity. I led multiple cyber awareness and communication teams across each participating institution, ultimately improving confidence in our cybersecurity best practices. Given the high-level panelists and topics focused on ransomware, phishing and the cyber skills shortage, we made an impressive impact.

How has public perception of cybersecurity changed over the course of your career, and how do you predict in the future?

At the beginning of my career in a corporate space, I realized I was the only female, the only Eastern European and the youngest person in many rooms and board rooms. Also, cybersecurity was still an overlooked practice not too long ago. The perception of cybersecurity has evolved dramatically, but there are still so few women working in this industry or rising to leadership roles. I’m proud to be a part of changing and influencing that image, and I admire all of the women who work in spaces where it is still common for only one woman to be at the table.

Tell us about a role model or mentor who has helped shape your career.

There are still few women working in cyber today, so I admire each and every one of them for being courageous enough to work in an industry where it is still common for there to be only one woman at the proverbial table. A couple of years ago, a female senior manager in one of the European institutions told me, “Don’t be shy and apply!” I keep repeating this invaluable advice to women ready to shift to cybersecurity.

A meeting gets canceled and you have a surprise 30 minute window of free time — how do you spend it?

There are so many excellent references in the market (publications, podcasts) for women to read or listen to that I can’t just pick one. I love reading or listening to the latest news or simply chatting with a friend from the cyber field. I encourage women wanting to work in cyber to join a cybersecurity organization. In Europe, we have the Women4Cyber Registry of Experts that brings together women of different backgrounds, which can serve as a reference point. There’s nothing better than learning from each other in real-time.

What are the ways you stay grounded and take care of yourself?

Very little is more grounding than the outdoors – and sometimes, I definitely need that earthy sensation beneath me. Stepping outside (I am lucky to live and work near a park), looking up at the sky and realizing that I am just a tiny part of a vast universe are among the easiest and most rewarding grounding techniques. Sometimes, I walk while listening to music or chatting with a friend during lunchtime, which energizes me.

When you think about your personal legacy as a leader, what do you hope people will remember?

I hope that people will remember to spin the spiral or the spiral of motivation which I tried over my career to instill in my teams. Imagine entering a cyberwar room as a new member, and the team to which you are assigned just managed to recover from a massive cyberattack. There is so much adrenaline in the air – a legacy of awesomeness that cannot be replicated yet still serves as a vision to pursue. In other words, a bar is set that is constantly raised and it motivates lesser-experienced members to become better, thus causing a spiral effect through time. As a cyber leader, I may dare greatly, but more so, I encourage others to spin their own spirals − and keep daring.