Applying mathematics for information security
Dr Michael Smith is head of the Cyber and Cryptomathematics Research (CMR) Group at the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO). Exploiting cyber mathematics and expanding the group’s scope beyond its traditional expertise of mathematics and high-performance computing are challenges Michael has embraced with enthusiasm.
Being a whizz at mathematics is one thing, but being able to apply that skill in an area that, in partnership with the Australian Signals Directorate, provides critical capability to Defence for information security is what puts Michael on top of the game.
Modern cryptography—the science of making and breaking codes—relies on sophisticated mathematics, which Michael applies to ensure the secure storage and transmission of Defence communications. In the interest of future-proofing Defence systems, Michael and his team are also looking at the impact of emerging technologies such as quantum cryptography.
Michael joined DSTO in 1990 as an experimental officer in the Underwater Systems Division in Melbourne. He took the opportunity offered by DSTO’s postdoctoral cadetship programme and achieved a PhD in mathematics from the Australian National University in 1994. Michael subsequently joined the CMR Group in Canberra as a research scientist. The job was perfectly suited to his talents and he became head of the group in 2011.
Michael has notched up a number of impressive achievements, starting with the inaugural DSTO Achievement Award for Best Contribution to Technology Base in 1998. His proudest achievement was leading an international, multi-agency programme to deliver a vital capability to ADF deployments. This effort was recognised with the CMR team winning a DSTO Achievement Award for Contribution to Defence Outcomes in 2007 and the Australian Intelligence Community Award in 2008.
Collaboration with other group members, clients and overseas experts has been key to Michael’s research success. He has co-authored more than 50 classified research papers and technical reports, many with world experts.
‘It’s important to create an environment where everyone gets to lead’, Michael stressed.
‘There will always be an enduring role for mathematics. I really enjoy sharing the history of the development of key ideas, particularly in the area of factoring.
‘I think there’s a great deal to be learned from history—a lot of the maths we use on a daily basis goes back more than 2,000 years’, Michael said.