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Lt. Col. Mathieu Couillard, Canadian Special Operations Forces

MS in Defense Analysis & MS in Computer Science ‘23

Lieutenant-Colonel Mathieu Couillard joined the Canadian Armed Forces in 2005 under the Regular Officer Training Plan. He graduated with a Baccalaureate in Computer Engineering from Université Laval in 2008. Upon completion of the Basic Signals Officer Course, he was posted to the 5th Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group, Headquarters & Signal Squadron in Valcartier, Quebec. In 2011, he was assigned to 2nd Battalion Royal 22e Regiment, as the Battalion Signals Officer.  

In 2012, Couillard was selected for employment within the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM). He served in numerous technical staff and leadership positions, deploying on a bi-national Special Operations Task Force, and as a project officer within a capacity-building mission.

Between 2017-2019, Couillard was appointed project manager and system engineering manager within the Canadian Department of National Defence Materiel Group. He managed a $320M project to modernize the Canadian Army’s fleet of Combat Net Radios and oversaw in-service support of all tactical radio equipment.  

In 2019, Couillard was selected for sub-unit command within CANSOFCOM, where he was responsible for a wide range of technical and operational capabilities. He was again deployed on a Special Operations Task Force. He also deployed as the inaugural leader of a multinational, inter-governmental software development team.     

Lt. Col. Couillard assumed his current position at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in June 2021. He is completing his last quarter as a dual-degree student in Defense Analysis (Special Operations & Irregular Warfare) and Computer Science (Cyber Operations).

"From a professional standpoint, the NPS network will undoubtedly provide value throughout my career. My experience here also reinforced the value of the academic approach to resolve operational challenges. When time permits, it’s wise to gain a solid understanding of the problem and evaluate where existing solutions fall short before selecting or designing a solution."

What has been most impactful about your time at NPS? What do you think will be your biggest takeaway as you move to your follow-on assignment in June of this year?


First and foremost, my family and I cherish the connections we’ve made with peers and faculty from across the globe while at NPS. From a professional standpoint, the NPS network will undoubtedly provide value throughout my career. My experience here also reinforced the value of the academic approach to resolve operational challenges. When time permits, it’s wise to gain a solid understanding of the problem and evaluate where existing solutions fall short before selecting or designing a solution.

Can you give us a brief explanation of your new concept for deceptive cyber defense, Deceptive Resistance to Adversary Cyber Operations (DRACO)?


DRACO is a concept that enhances cybersecurity by luring cyber threat actors to an engagement on the defender’s terms. Through that interaction, cyber forces can better detect ongoing attacks, or misdirect the adversary and even seize the opportunity to retaliate. The concept uses redirection and “spoofing,” a modification of one’s network address to impersonate another endpoint, such that the attacker believes they are interacting with their intended target. In reality, this interaction may be occurring on a cloud-hosted network that is completely detached from the network.  


How does DRACO compare to other cyber defense strategies currently used by the DOD? What advantages does it offer over these strategies?


For decades, cybersecurity has been based on passive perimeter defense, ignoring the threats that may already exist within the network. A recent study from IBM suggests that on average, it takes defenders 212 days to detect a network breach! Deception is part of an important shift to a proactive cybersecurity posture that involves hunting for threats. However, some challenges have limited the operationalization of deception technologies, like the integration effort and potential security risks of existing solutions. DRACO can help by offering a compelling deception while minimizing both the security risk and the integration burden.

Can you walk us through an example of a successful deployment of DRACO in a simulated cyber attack scenario?


There are many ways to configure the concept based on one’s objectives. For an initial trial earlier this year, we simulated the school’s Virtual Private Network (VPN) gateway – basically the entry point for all remote access to the school’s systems. While users were conducting business as usual, the network redirected malicious traffic to DRACO, which responded as though it were the real gateway. This gave us a unique perspective on the threats that are directed at NPS.  


In a commercial application, we could deploy DRACO to simulate an internal high-value target like servers that host sensitive data. By configuring the deception to offer an enticing vulnerability to potential attackers, network defenders could detect attacks much faster than through traditional methods.  


You are currently in the process of applying for a patent for DRACO. What do you hope to achieve with the patent, and how do you see it benefiting the cybersecurity industry? How do you see it benefiting international allies?


As an engineer, having a patent to your name is one of those things you dream about! If the patent goes through, it’ll be exciting to see where the concept can end up. One of DRACO’s strengths is that the redirection and potential for cloud-hosting make it simple to integrate, so we’re hopeful that partners see the value and join us.  

Earlier this year, you organized a week-long workshop with Canadian Special Operations Forces (CANSOF) at NPS. What were the overall objectives of this workshop?


You mean besides take advantage of everything that Monterey has to offer? With professors from the Defense Analysis and Computer Science departments, we created an inter-disciplinary program for CANSOF NCOs on the themes of strategic competition & emerging technology. Today, every mission has a political component and global implications. Also, emerging technologies like cyber are a constant consideration. This was a great opportunity to expose CANSOF NCOs to these important topics, and more generally to graduate-level concepts. We ran a first course in January and are expecting a second cohort in July, so we can see that the course is generating a lot of interest.  

Why is it critical for allied nations to work on defense-related solutions together? How do you envision the continued international collaboration between Canadian Armed Forces and the Naval Postgraduate School?


I have had the opportunity to deploy within multi-national teams before and have always been amazed at how productive they can be. Diverse teams simply produce great results and NPS is a great example of that. I seize every opportunity to promote NPS within Canada because of the unique life experience and education that the school provides. Hopefully, we see more Canadian students and visiting researchers at NPS in the future!

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