UWinnipeg alumnus delves into the world of cyber security

Philip Lafrance ©UWinnipeg

Philip Lafrance is making his mark in the world of quantum-safe cryptography.

The University of Winnipeg alumnus graduated with a major in mathematics and minor in statistics before obtaining his Master’s in Mathematics at the University of Waterloo.

Now he’s the standards manager with ISARA Corporation, traveling across the world to work on standardizing quantum-safe protocols for use in the Internet, financial services, defence, health care, and automotive industries.

“Cryptography is considered basically a munitions or a restricted good, so we have to apply for permits to sell it,” Lafrance explained.

Originally, his love for cryptography came during his studies at UWaterloo. While obtaining his masters, his research area of quantum-safe cryptography allowed him to explore quantum physics and quantum computing with coding, encryption, and authentication.

After finishing at UWaterloo, Lafrance was offered a research position at ISARA Corporation, where he worked for four months. He was about to leave for a security consulting organization in Calgary when ISARA Corporation offered him a permanent, full-time position.

The importance of his work is amplifying in the next decade as experts predict within the next seven to 15 years large-scale quantum computers will emerge that are capable of breaking the public key cryptographic algorithms, underlying virtually all of today’s data security.

This includes everything from the Internet to medical devices, and financial services to national defence.

“My primary role is to lead and collaborate on global standards-setting efforts for interoperable cryptographic algorithms that are resistant to attacks by large-scale quantum computers, so that they can be properly tested and deployed by vulnerable organizations, governments, and industries before quantum computers become available,” Lafrance explained.

He credited his five years at UWinnipeg for not only piquing his interest in mathematics, but supplying him with real-world skills other institutions don’t provide.

“UWinnipeg has a legitimately great math faculty,” Lafrance said. “You have these great professors and small classes where they know your name and can go over your assignments with you, so that really helped me.”

Because he was able to take courses in economics, computer science, physics, and literature, Lafrance’s UWinnipeg experience really prepared him for entering the workplace.

His experiences with different faculties, departments, and staff provided him with a variety of perspectives required for life after school.

“Now that I’m working in the real world, what I’m finding is I have a much bigger breath of study than other people,” he said. “You’ve got people who did a major in math, a minor in math, and another degree in math, which is great, but they don’t have any basic economics or statistics — and I’m seeing this hurt people in the real world.”

But if there’s a single person who’s made an everlasting impact, it was professor Andrew Bendor-Samuel. Without his first-year calculus class, Lafrance isn’t sure he would have decided to study math.

“He was the first teacher I’ve ever had who brought energy to the subject — he would run around the classroom chalkboard to chalkboard and brought this joy and life to math that I never saw in high school,” Lafrance recalled. “He was the one who made me realize math was interesting, fun, and worthwhile.”

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