Often called the "father of SSL" due to his role as a cryptographer at Netscape Communications where in the mid-'90s he helped bring SSL encryption to the Web, Dr. Taher Elgamal now travels the Middle East as an IT consultant and project coordinator for business and government there.
As CEO of Dubai-based First Information Security, Elgamal works in places such as the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt -- the country where he was born and raised, graduating from Cairo University to then go to the U.S. to attend Stanford University for advanced research in crypto, the start of a distinguished IT career. Elgamal says despite the obvious turmoil seen in parts of the Middle East, it's a region where modernization through technology is occurring at a fast clip, much as it is in other areas of the world.
"People use social media more over there than here," said Elgamal, an Egyptian-American who still resides in Silicon Valley, that fabled narrow stretch of California where so much Internet-based technology has been created by so many. In the Middle East, it's easy to get the impression that everyone is carrying around even more mobile phones than the U.S., he adds.
In the countries he visits, he says some types of e-commerce, such as online banking, are just getting ramped up. But governments, financial institutions and other businesses, such as petroleum producers, are investing in modern networks, applications and security much as would happen anywhere else. Saudi Arabia in particular is very busy that way now, he adds. Cloud computing is just as hot a topic in the Middle East as in the U.S. or elsewhere, he points out.
The Internet and modern communications of all kinds are bringing about less of a closed society with more Westernization of it, he says. But he retains poignant, fond memories of childhood and youth spent with family and friends in a simpler time in Egypt, saying it's like this "old country has disappeared."
When he recalls the early expansion of the global Web when SSL was regarded as a boon to e-commerce security, Elgamal says SSL clearly was a benefit but that no doubt there were many instances where "marketing exaggerated things" about SSL to encourage people to try Web-based shopping, which was new.
Elgamal is one of the few individuals in the world with crypto systems named after them based on their research, in this case, the "ElGamal crypto system" and "ElGamal digital signature," with the spelling of his name into English from the Arabic over the decades undergoing various transliterations, including "El-Gamal."
Over the past few years, SSL has faced a number of attacks to discredit it as vulnerable, but Elgamal points out there's "not a single case of fraud being done because anything was broken in SSL." He said he deems storage and inadequate passwords to be counted among the "weakest links" when it comes to security.
Ellen Messmer is senior editor at Network World, an IDG publication and website, where she covers news and technology trends related to information security. Twitter: @MessmerE. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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