Jun 01 2020

Professor Keith Martin, Department of Information Security, has recently published his second book about cryptography which targets itself towards a wider audience. We recently caught up with Professor Martin to ask him more about the key differences in his two books, and why cryptography is so important.

1. Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your role in the department of information security?

I first came to Royal Holloway in 1988 (which is a scarily long time ago) to do my PhD. It was a lovely quiet place in these days with just 3000 students. I managed to escape for eight years, but re-joined the College as a Lecturer in January 2000. I was Head of the Information Security Group between 2010 and 2015 and am currently Director of the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Cyber Security for the Everyday.

2. You’ve recently published your second book about cryptography, can you tell us what inspired you to specialise in this subject?

I studied mathematics at the University of Glasgow and grew increasingly interested in real uses of maths. My big problem was that I did not enjoy the kind of maths that is most commonly applied (such as differential equations). In my final year I discovered that discrete mathematics (which I did like) had uses in protecting digital communications. This included cryptography, which is essentially a toolkit of mathematically-based techniques which provide core security functions, such as the ability to keep digital secrets. So I searched for universities which specialised in cryptography and soon discovered that at that time there was only one in the whole of the UK…

3. What are the main differences between your first book Everyday Cryptography and your most recent book?

In 2012 I wrote a book which was designed to support students without a maths background who needed to study cryptography in order to become cyber-security specialists – such as those on our own MSc in Information Security. Since 2012, however, cryptography has had a higher public profile and increasingly been in the news. This is partly because of National Security Agency whistleblower’s Edward Snowden’s 2013 revelations about global surveillance programs, but also developments such as cryptocurrencies (and, most recently, contact-tracing apps). I felt that there was a need to explain the role cryptography plays in securing cyberspace to a more general audience, hence the writing of a “popular science” book on the subject.

4. Where can prospective readers buy your new book?

Cryptography: The Key to Digital Security, How it Works, and Why it Matters (WW Norton) went on general sale in the US a few weeks ago, and will be released in the UK in mid-June.

5. What do you enjoy most about working at Royal Holloway?

Despite steady expansion, I think Royal Holloway has retained some of its “small campus” feel. I think this makes it a nicer place to work than larger universities. I also really like the campus grounds, especially as I’m a keen birdwatcher.

6. How are you spending your time outside of work hours at the moment?

Somewhat surprisingly, lockdown has resulted in me being fitter than I’ve been for years. My son and I have been doing our daily “PE with Joe Wicks” for the last couple of months. We also purchased a treadmill just as lockdown approached and I’ve been running around Tasmania. Having a bit more time each day has also meant that I’ve made very good progress on the pile of books on my shelf that were in the “to read” category. And I’ve been building a wildlife pond – one of these jobs that I never quite got around to beforehand.