This year saw a high quality of applications and the panel had the difficult task to separate the finalists. The judges said, "Max’s work exemplifies the development of academic innovation through into industry with proof-of-concept, trials and demonstrations. His projects have shown significant economic and practical impacts and he has used his work to support PhD students through the start of their R&D journey. With a number of patents, the technology developed by Max improves efficiency and security, whilst promoting mental wellbeing at work. Max is a worthy winner of the 2022 innovator of the year award."
Tell us how you got into the industry and your career to date.
I have long had an interest in technology. This was likely motivated by my father spending his career in the field. When it came to planning my future, I therefore opted to pursue computer science. I studied at King’s College London before starting my career at BT plc as a graduate software engineer. I found the work interesting, particularly the problem-solving part of the role. This eventually led me to pursue some research at City, University of London. I joined BT's research department in April 2019, where I've been working on innovative authentication systems.
What are you most proud of?
I'm proud of many things in my career so there's no one achievement that stands out above the rest. I'm proud of some of the innovative solutions I've helped develop that solve real-world security problems and have led to both patent filings and academic publications. I'm also proud of having had the opportunity to mentor an apprentice and some students. The apprentice started his first rotation with me, so it was important I set manageable and interesting tasks for him. Helping him make some fantastic achievements is something I'm very proud of in my career. Lastly, I'm obviously very proud to have won the ITP Innovator of the Year 2022 award!
Can you tell us about any challenges you have faced?
Innovation is challenging, so there are quite a few challenges to choose from. Sometimes there have been development challenges where some code just didn't do what I needed it to do, and I needed to debug it to figure out why. Other times there have been challenges when an ML model I've developed or deployed gives some unexpected results and I've had to figure out why. There have also been business challenges where I've had to find the most appropriate way to communicate the value of innovative work that we do. Long story short, innovation has some challenges!
Can you tell us about the technology you have developed to promote secure authentication practices at work? Why was this important to you and what has been the impact of this?
The technology developed is a system that authenticates users continuously. The system does this by observing user traits throughout the session to continuously check that the user is who they claim to be. The benefit of this approach is that if a device was left unlocked and an attacker began to use the system the device would be able to revoke access in real-time. We've seen the potential positive impacts to system security such a technology could have through a trial we've done internally with our prototype.
What trends do you expect to see in the next five years?
There are many exciting trends that I expect to see in the next five years. One trend we will likely see is the shift of authentication mechanisms away from one-shot knowledge-based factors such as passwords (which often see users fighting against security for usability) toward factors that utilise user behaviour to authenticate users transparently and continuously. The process of authentication is the first line of defence in many computer systems, so it's crucial that strong and rigid identity verification checks are continuously applied.
What does winning an award from the ITP mean to you?
Winning the ITP Innovator of the Year 2022 award meant a great deal to me. It was a surreal feeling to hear my name read out as the winner. I've got a lot of respect for the organisation and the amazing people that run it. I'm both thrilled and humbled to have such an influential organisation recognise me as an innovator for the work I've done. The song played as I walked up on stage to collect the award (When You Were Young by The Killers) will now be my lucky song. I'm certain that this recognition from the ITP will benefit my career for years to come.