Leading figures from Britain’s security and intelligence community – from agency staff to civil servants and politicians – gathered at the headquarters of the National Cyber Security Center (NCSC) in London on Tuesday evening to bid farewell to the Dr. Ian Levy, the agency’s outgoing tech. director.
Levy spent more than two decades in the service of the Crown, joining the British intelligence community from the University of Warwick where he was a postdoctoral researcher in computer science. In the years since, Levy has held numerous positions at GCHQ – the UK’s top cyber agency – before helping to found the NCSC itself in 2016.
The NCSC’s goal since its inception — which came in the wake of Edward Snowden’s surveillance disclosures and an acceleration of hostile foreign cyberactivity — has been to engage with the public and industry to address the cyber threats facing the UK. During his tenure, Dr. Levy has continually argued for the value of approaching cybersecurity as a science – particularly in his lengthy farewell blog post published last week.
Among his achievements, Levy has been a major player in consolidating UK government websites and communications, as well as articulating government procedure around the management of technology vulnerabilities.
From the risks posed by Huawei to Kaspersky, he took the initiative to explain every cybersecurity issue of public concern the country has faced.
Ciaran Martin, founding CEO of NCSC, tweeted that he found it hard to think of any other public servant who had had as much of a positive impact in their area of specialization – nationally and globally – as Dr. Ian Levy had in cybersecurity.
In a wire he paid tribute to “one of the most remarkable and singularly efficient civil servants with whom I have had the privilege of working (and whose nominal patron I have been)” and listed the praises of Dr. Levy: “A a true technical expert, a brilliant communicator, teacher and influencer, an original thinker, a globally significant force for good, an occasional royal pain in the ass and a hugely impactful agent of change.
Martin also gave a speech in Levy’s honor during a surprise return to NCSC which was described as “both hilarious and moving” by several attendees. As a parting gift, Levy received an authentic 10-rotor assembly for a Fialka cipher machine, used throughout the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War.
After the snacks at the Nova South head office in Victoria, the farewell party decamped to a nearby pub, then continued through the drizzle to another at closing time. Current and former colleagues who declined to be named echoed Martin’s affections and praise for Levy, and – universally smiling – described him as a “disruptor”.
Publicly, Richard Benyon, a former MP who now sits in the House of Lords, describe Levy as “a great man” and added: “When I was a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee he explained cybersecurity to a layman with complete clarity. Thank you Ian Levy for your service.”
Despite the farewells, Levy doesn’t leave immediately — there’s a lengthy handover process with the many people who will share his work portfolio — and a few more farewells with former colleagues in the United States. Rob Joyce, director of cybersecurity at the National Security Agency, wrote that Levy was “a great partner who we will miss!” on Twitter.
In the short term for Ian Levy, there might be a new Twitter account, and he joked about possibly dyeing his goatee bright pink for Movember. For a few months, he will be on “enforced gardening leave,” a term for when an outgoing employee is expected to avoid the workplace during their notice period, before starting a new role.
Asked about the sequel, Dr Levy told The Record ‘good job’, although it turned out to be a brand of Cornish lager. Regarding his future employment, he remained professionally and deeply secretive.