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Securing our digital lives

Meet Melih Abdulhayoglu: a Turkish-American entrepreneur and CEO of one of the worlds’ leading internet security companies, Comodo, which he founded 20 years ago. Under Melih’s direction, the Comodo group has grown to a worldwide presence, acclaimed in the cyber security industry for innovation and trust.

Having graduated from Bradford with a BSc in Electronic Engineering in 1998, Melih founded Comodo seven years later, after realising that internet security was a significant problem of global importance. “It was all about protecting the human race and empowering them to use the Internet by protecting the Internet for them” he states, “there wasn’t a person who inspired me per se, it was me identifying the problem and wanting to solve it.”

Comodo produces digital security products, notably Secure Socket Layer (SSL) Certificates for websites, the backbone of internet security. These protect sensitive information as it travels across the world’s computer networks and today 50% of this worldwide traffic is secured by Comodo. This is a significant achievement and one that has not come about easily, though Melih maintains a philosophical approach to overcoming challenges. “Entrepreneurship is about perseverance and breaking down the obstacles one by one, whether they come in ones or tens.”

Melih came to the United Kingdom from his native Turkey at 18 and shortly after embarked upon a Bachelor of Science in Electronic Engineering at the University of Bradford. “My time in Bradford gave me a great grounding in electronics engineering,” he says, when reflecting on his university studies, “my strongest memories are the time spent at Revis Barber Hall, the computer room and library, and the labs where we used to build electronics.” Today, Comodo is the world’s largest provider of SSL certificates by volume, having issued over 100 million certificates serving over 200,000 customers across 150 countries. The company has consistently recorded double-digit revenue growth for the past several years, delivering a record 45 percent increase in year-over-year revenue in 2018. 

“Entrepreneurship is about perseverance and breaking down the obstacles one by one, whether they come in ones or tens.”

Internet security is a big business sector - the market is worth $4 billion – so it’s understandable that when Melih sold a majority stake in his company to a private equity firm in 2017 he describes it as being “like sending your kid to college”. Money was never the primary motivator, however: “A security company should not be making money from the troubles and security problems of its clients,” Melih says, “it earns the right to ask for money only when it really protects its clients.”

Melih actively advocates higher standards throughout the security industry. In 2005 he established the Certification Authority Browser Forum (CA/B Forum), a consortium of Certificate Authorities and Internet browser providers, thereby bringing industry leaders together to establish new authentication standards for Extended Validation (EV) SSL Certificates.

His efforts to promote Internet security earned him Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year award in Information Technology Software for New Jersey in 2008. He is a frequent speaker on Internet security issues and has appeared as an expert on various media outlets, including Fox TV and USA Today.

We have seen a significant increase in some of the biggest cyber threats in recent history, with millions of consumers and thousands of businesses affected by everything from the WannaCry attack to the Equifax and Uber data breaches. The 2018 Cyber Security Breaches Survey, from the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, shows that 43% of businesses and 20% of charities experienced a cybersecurity breach or attack in the last 12 months.

Information security spending worldwide will reach more than $114 billion in 2018, according to a report from Gartner. Additionally, the 2017 Cybercrime Report anticipates cybercrime damages will cost the world $6 trillion annually by 2021. According to Melih, the issue of cyber security is about understanding business and not necessarily just looking at IT software.

“Unfortunately security is very disconnected, point solutions. It’s about protecting ‘business’, not a computer or an email account. It requires a whole new approach and platform and that is why I built the Comodo cyber security platform we have today.”

“As the human race increases its dependency on the Internet, it will create a bigger attack surface for criminals to target and this, in turn, increases the need for greater security. Cyber security is a field that suffers from an inability to differentiate a good product from a bad product. This, in turn, results in a ‘choice fatigue’ for the consumers of cybersecurity.”

Melih’s biggest supporter is also a Bradford alumnus: his wife. “I never had a mentor or someone I looked up to, but I don’t think I could have done what I have without my wife.” That sense of family is also why, in 2004, he moved to America, relocating his company to New Jersey. However, they still retain operations in Manchester and Bradford. Melih is certainly not winding down yet, describing his future plans as making the world a better place to live in.

He is in the process of setting up two further companies, one focussed on a home automation platform and the other on an IT management platform. “Today home automation is where computers were in the 1970s; good for hobbyists,” says Melih, “with a proper platform that we are building, under Ezlo Innovation LLC, we hope to change that.”

So what does a multimillionaire think is the key to success? “Entrepreneurship is about perseverance and always looking for problems. Do what you are passionate about, dream big, make sure you never give up and don’t take no for an answer!”