Before she became United Airlines' top cybercop, Emily Heath was an English bobby.
The 44-year-old joined the airline as chief information security officer in early 2017 from Aecom, a construction-engineering giant based in Los Angeles, after doing work for movie studios, such as Sony and MGM. Since arriving at United's HQ in Willis Tower, Heath has more than doubled its cybersecurity team to over 100. Forty-eight percent of them are women, and 42 percent are minorities. Women occupy the top two technology jobs at United. Linda Jojo (Page 16) is chief digital officer.
Despite her experience as a detective in Cheshire County, England, doing undercover work and investigating fraud and white-collar crime, Heath says, she "ended up in security completely by accident." She left police work in the early 2000s and learned to code and build web pages. She then began doing project management, which eventually led to a job handling security and compliance with financial regulations.
"I like to bring order to chaos. I like big, hairy problems to figure out," Heath says. She certainly found one in cybersecurity, which has become one of the biggest headaches for companies and government agencies. Airlines¡ªUnited itself was identified as a victim of a data breach in 2015¡ªare an inviting target.
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Heath takes a cop's pragmatic approach. "Attacks will happen to our organizations. So it's a question of resilience. How do we respond? How fast do we recover?" she told a group of tech professionals and executives recently. "You can't protect everything the same. It's just not possible. You have to ask: What are the crown jewels? Where are they and who has access to them?"
She also has enlisted all of United Continental Holdings' 90,000 employees in the fight. Many hacks occur when someone provides sensitive info in response to a phishing email. The company now sends out mock phishing emails each month and monitors how recipients respond. "We've seen a big decrease in the number of people clicking on these emails," she says, "and we've seen a massive increase in threats and suspicious emails reported to us."