Bret Arsenault ’80

Improving Cyber Security in a Digital World

You probably log into your computer or use a mobile device every day, but do you stop to think about what is keeping your information secure as you browse websites, make purchases, or even filter through Facebook postings? Imagine a world where your credit card information is regularly stolen from websites and where you have no control over your online social identity. Bret Arsenault ‘80, Vice President and Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) at Microsoft, thinks about this every day. Bret leads a global team of security and risk management professionals who work together to keep Microsoft employees and customers safe.

Bret and his team continually consider potential future risks and dependencies that could impact customers globally. In this capacity, they anticipate digital security vulnerabilities before they exist, sometimes deploying systems to avoid breaches, as well as building rapid responses to issues as they arise.  One of Bret’s responsibilities is to conduct vulnerability assessments and penetration tests or “pen tests.”  He oversees security experts who target Microsoft systems, trying to find security weaknesses in systems and operations. These activities help Microsoft measure the effectiveness of security controls and identify risks. Bret works across Microsoft and the industry, addressing the risks and vulnerabilities.

How did Bret’s experience at The White Mountain School influence his life and work choices? We had the opportunity to talk with Bret and his family when he visited campus this fall and this is what we learned.

The White Mountain School was the perfect place for my brother and me to attend high school. I was expected to be engaged in and out of class every day, to challenge myself, and I was given positions of responsibility that made me accountable to myself and to the broader community.

My math and science classes were extremely challenging. I clearly remember being pushed in these areas and encouraged to dive as deep as I was willing to go. I embraced these areas and found myself spending lots of extra time in the (then fledgling) computer lab. Because of the strong curriculum at WMS, I was prepared academically, particularly in math and science, which enabled me to test out of several introductory-level courses my freshman year in college.

I was an active kid and loved sports. WMS focused on “life sports,” such as tennis, rock climbing and skiing, sports that are geared towards lifelong activity and that don’t require a large amount of capital. I especially loved tennis and being able to practice with the team on the indoor court at night. We rotated the day/night schedule with the women’s team so many days I would get to rock climb or kayak in the afternoon and then play tennis at night, missing study hall, but only if I kept my grades up.  In the winter I was on the ski team, and I played soccer in the fall.

All of these WMS sports fostered both teamwork and individual accountability. Many of these teams are an amalgamation of individuals, but every person contributes to the same goal. You can’t achieve anything without the group working together. It was through this experience that I learned about collaboration and working toward a common goal. This mentality has played a major role in my management skills. It was incredibly rewarding to watch others achieve and improve on the team, which is definitely something that I enjoy about management. Watching my employees grow and improve is one of the things I love about my job.

Perhaps one of the best things to happen to me at WMS was when I was given the position of work job coordinator. I was responsible for organizing and implementing the entire, campus-wide student work program. This role required me to think large-scale about the jobs that needed to be done and who would be best suited for each job based on their skills. Finding the right people for the right jobs helped the school continue to operate smoothly. It was a giant puzzle that required both advance planning and quick, on-the-spot troubleshooting. This position carried with it considerable responsibility. If things didn’t run smoothly, the entire school community would be impacted. This role taught me a great deal about management, the importance of common goals and a united vision. Being the work job coordinator also meant that I was able to work in the kitchen three nights a week. Happily, my kitchen nights coincided with the nights when everyone else had to wear a coat and tie to dinner!

The academic, athletic and work job experiences at WMS set me on a life path where I expected and wanted to be challenged, where I knew I could rise to the occasion, and where I learned that my actions impacted the experience of others. I carry those critical life lessons with me today.

Bret Arsenault has been Microsoft’s Vice President and CISO for the past four years, with over 24 years of extensive experience at Microsoft in network computing, distributed processing, security and web based solutions. Bret’s experience and expertise in the industry has made him a highly sought-after presenter and speaker at global events with businesses and governments. He is involved at the executive level both with Microsoft customers and partners, Bret has also received numerous awards including the Architectural Engineer Achievement Award by Bill Gates for his leading Internet work.

Bret lives in Washington State with his wife, Peg, and daughter, Sydney. He spends his free time at his cabin where he still enjoys the sports he participated in at WMS, except for soccer.  His daughter is anxiously waiting for him to build the climbing wall after their recent visit to WMS.

Bret and his brother, Rob ’78, plan to be back at WMS in February for the WMS/SMS Alumnae/i Ski weekend and to talk with current students – we’re looking forward to it!

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