Designing German cyber security strategy at the Defence Ministry

MIA 2017 graduate Fanny Ries got hooked on defence and security policy at the Hertie School.

As Desk Officer at the Ministry of Defence, Fanny Ries helped to prepare Germany’s cyber security and digital policy program for its presidency of the European Council. The last year was hectic.

Fanny and her colleagues – working partly from home during the lockdown – had to redesign many of their projects for the pandemic era.

“We had to adapt everything we had been working on for the past one to one and a half years,” she says. “A lot of events could no longer take place physically, so we adapted them virtually, which is of course different. The kind of conversations you have are different, the moderators have to adapt, and of course the chat in the coffee breaks no longer takes place, so the networking aspect of those events is gone.”

More than that, the coronavirus itself became one of the major challenges facing the EU, so it required some major reworking of content. In retrospect, she is happy with the results of the presidency and her personal contribution to it. It’s a job she loves.

“I never have to question why I am going to work,” she says. “I always feel like there is a purpose behind it. That doesn’t mean that all the tasks I do have a huge impact, but I feel like I am working for society and the country and that is a great feeling.”

Fanny obtained a bachelor degree in Economics from the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland in 2014, and began her Master of International Affairs at the Hertie School in 2015. She chose the Hertie School because a friend who was studying at the school spoke of it with great enthusiasm.

“I went to see her in Berlin,” Fanny says. “I thought maybe this is a good combination, having a familiar setting and knowing all your classmates because the university is so small, but at the same time living in Berlin, a huge city full of opportunities – also professional ones.”

She at first wanted to continue focusing on economic policy at Hertie and was eying a career at the World Bank or International Monetary Fund. But she found herself increasingly drawn to defence and security policy. One of her classes was taught by Wolfgang Ischinger, the chairman of the Munich Security Conference.

“Listening to his experiences and anecdotes of dealing with world leaders was really inspiring,” she says.

So while still at the Hertie School, Fanny completed an internship at the German Ministry of Defence. “I got really hooked,” she says. “I wanted to come back after I graduated and luckily it worked.”

She has now been there for three years. For the first year, she was working on bilateral defence cooperation in cyber and IT. It wasn’t always easy at the start, “especially as a young woman, because obviously it is very male-dominated, and most of my colleagues are way older than I am,” she says. “But everyone was kind and helpful and willing to answer questions.”

Now 28, Fanny doesn’t envisage moving on from the Defence Ministry any time soon – and is also planning to stay in the field of cyber security for the time being. “It’s one of the biggest challenges we face, not only in the future but today,” she says. Her work also gives opportunities to work abroad and this year, she is planning a three-month placement at NATO in Brussels. She would like to work abroad for a longer period at some stage – possibly for the German government at NATO.

But she also feels very at home in Berlin now, having lived in five different neighbourhoods. “Every time it’s like moving to a different city,” she says. “I would like to go abroad for a little while, but I see myself coming back in the long-term.”