At the outset of Desert Storm, Maurice Smith’s communications unit within the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division learned fast that technology does not always keep pace with troop movements.
The 82nd led the largest Army deployment since Vietnam, capturing thousands of Iraqi soldiers through flanking maneuvers deep within Iraqi territory. The ground war was over within 100 hours.
“We were always moving forward,” Smith says, “but we quickly realized our communications systems weren’t designed to move as quickly. It took us three hours just to set up. By the time you set up, the front had already moved.”
As the troops advanced, they were forced to rely on secondary communications systems. “The military had spent billions on equipment,” Smith says, “and we couldn’t use it.”
The armed forces have long been the proving ground for technology that eventually made its way to consumers – ranging from Jeeps to the earliest version of the Internet. Desert Storm represented one of the earliest examples of GPS use as bombers sought out targets in landscapes devoid of any distinguishing features.
As Smith experienced it, those combat operations also revealed that communications technology needed to be smaller and integrated within military units rather than into separate companies. Smith’s Signal Company was disbanded, which in turn gave him the opportunity to grow with digital technology over the ensuing decades.
Smith’s role transitioned into signals intelligence, known as SIGINT, where he rapidly developed expertise. After cyber security and intelligence became an increasingly important part of his work, he finished his military career and saw that the private sector was still catching up to the security required in a digital world.
“The explosion of cloud technologies and Big Data means everybody is sharing information,” he says. “There's a plus side to that, but there is a negative in terms of how much should be shared. That really becomes a problem when trying to protect data as best as you can.”
As the military developed computer networks in the ‘80s and ‘90s, its overall security culture grew along with it. In the civilian world, Smith says, technology advances tend to outpace the needed security. “At the end of the day,” he adds, “security is five or six steps behind.”
After getting his start in enterprise IT security with Levi Strauss Co., Smith has continued his mission as a security expert across industries. His role at UnitedLex as Vice President of Cyber and Information Security comes as a growth moment for the company and a culmination of his digital transformation journey.
“It’s critically important to protect the relationships that we’ve fostered and look to foster with clients,” Smith says. “The amount of data and services entrusted to UnitedLex is huge. When you look at law firms, the things they are involved with, mergers and acquisitions, patents, that’s a treasure trove for attackers. And it puts a bigger target on our back.”
Smith’s hiring comes as new initiatives such as UnitedLex Vantage are launched during a global period of increased phishing and cyberattacks alongside COVID-19. He looks forward to the challenges the role offers.
“At a high level, we want to be the leader in technology and legal services not only in terms of the services we provide, but how we protect the data clients entrust us with,” Smith says. “We’re looking to take security seriously not as a cliché, but through action.”