Jan van den Berg

Position

Professor of Cyber Security at TPM and EEMCS. Also: director of research at the Cyber Security Academy in The Hague. As from 1 July 2015 full professor of Cyber Security Leiden University.

Tell us about your personal life

'I am married to Anneke, a psychologist working for Nidos. We have three grown up sons: Mark (gardener and mountainee), Paul (architect) and Erik (journalist). My great passion is running. In 2015 I run the Rotterdam Marathon for the 25th time. I enjoy playing the piano, although I don't really have enough time for that at the moment. Meteorological equipment also fascinates me. I find it amusing to keep an eye on nature, which is why I have a barometer, hygrometer and a weather station. When I was a child, I wanted to become an inventor. My professorship has finally made that dream a reality, after a long journey through electrical engineering, mathematics, physics, politics, computer science (in particular artificial intelligence), econometrics and science in general.'

What has been the highlight of your career?

The collaboration with Uzay Kaymak in the field of probabilistic fuzzy systems during my time at the Erasmus University of Rotterdam. We authored many papers, and a fantastic publication in 2012, about this theoretical part of artificial intelligence. For years, we practised true, fundamental science intensely with a dynamic group of students and colleagues, which was extremely satisfying. My appointment to full professor of Cyber Security was also a great experience. I only obtained my doctorate at age 44 - at that age, you don't think about a full professorship any more. So being appointed a full professor at 62 was very emotional. It is the crowning achievement of my career and opens doors to wonderful initiatives.'

Greatest challenge

'Getting a large group of people to understand what internet security is essentially all about. Nobody has a clear picture of the total internet usage and the risks involved - neither the three billion users nor the politicians. Cyber Security is a complex field, which is too often approached in an ad hoc way. We are constantly being surprised by incidents such as the NSA scandals, and the politicians race from incident to incident. The challenge lies in the development of a holistic view which will allow us to structurally tackle the risks of cyberspace. A first step would be to raise awareness of the cyberspace situation, which is what I would like to accomplish through my own research. My dream is to lay the foundation for a form of internet where the risks are acceptable. This is why we educate people at, for example, the Cyber Security Academy, why we will establish the 3TU Master, and why we work with clearly positioned research, which allows everyone to understand the complete picture.'

What do you enjoy most about your work?

'Team work, which is extremely fascinating! Recently, we had the first pilot connected to the development of the Cyber Security Master's degree programme within the Academy. We came together with twenty enthusiastic people from the business, science and political communities in order to gain a better understanding of each other's fields. Everyone was very passionate, and it was great to have been able to personally contribute to this. Being able to do research with young PhD students is also fantastic. It is such a privilege to work at a university where something is always happening. In such a dynamic environment, there are always plenty of opportunities.'

Why Delft?

'The Delft region, which includes the political centre of The Hague, is a great location for safety and security questions. I am also leading the LDE theme (a strategic alliance of Leiden University, TU Delft and the Erasmus University) for Safety and Security. Within this region, TU Delft, with its technical courses, is the place to be. The fact that I studied at TU Delft myself makes this university especially important to me.'

What is your best character trait?

'My enthusiasm and my capacity for acceptance. I can handle setbacks well and am open to differences between people. I really can't stand intolerance. I'm also positive, flexible and love cooperation.'

What is your worst character trait?

'I have minor autistic traits - in my enthusiasm as a boffin, I sometimes forget there are also people who are different. I also find it difficult to say no, although, by necessity (!), I'm starting to learn how to do it better.'

What subject do you think should be high on the political agenda?

'Internet security. The traffic on the road, in the air and on the water is all well-regulated, but the internet is chaotic and we pay the price for this. So it is vital that politicians take the problems of internet security seriously. We should also remember that the internet has wonderful possibilities. It is therefore a question of finding the right balance between opportunities and risks.'

Your source of inspiration?

'When I was a physics student, Einstein was my hero. I was surprised by his originality of thought and still regard him as a genius. Later, I started reading Darwin's The origin of species, which I now consider the most beautiful scientific book ever written. Darwin saw the complexity of natural development. What is really amusing is that I am now imitating him on the computer with genetic algorithms - a technology for tackling optimisation questions. Because of this, I am even more convinced of the truth of what Darwin said. Nature, as a phenomenon, is also a source of inspiration. As a child growing up in a green environment, I was always trying to understand nature. I did that in my own way, by building jetties and boats. Darwin later provided me with totally different insights.' 

Your life philosophy?

'In the early eighties, I lived in Mozambique with my family in order to participate in the struggle for solidarity. That idealism ended in serious disillusionment, but my time in Africa taught me to not only look towards the future, but also to enjoy the present. You live now; later can wait until later. The books of Hermann Hesse are my favourites in this regard - they concern the search for the balance between the serious person and the idler in yourself.'

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