Let’s talk about digital identity with Dr Salah Rustum, founder of CIELTECH.

Oscar is joined by Dr. Salah Rustum, founder of CIEL and CIELtech to discuss digital identity in the middle east – what digital identity challenges the organisations in this region are facing, what solutions could be introduced to help these challenges and what cyber laws are in this region and his role in introducing these laws.

[Transcript below]

“Everybody wants to be on the internet, everybody wants to apply in new technologies. The danger is that sometimes they get wrong advice.”

Salah RustumDr Salah A. Rustum is a Ph. D. in Aerodynamics and has occupied very high positions in this field including vice presidency at Boeing.

Dr Rustum is also the founder of CIEL a Lebanese Company dealing in Cyber Security ever since 1990 and the founder of CIELTECH of Qatar which has the same concept and has set his mission to support and develop the integrity of information technology and information sent on the Internet.

Connect with Salah on LinkedIn.

We’ll be continuing this conversation on Twitter using #LTADI – join us @ubisecure!

Go to our YouTube to watch the video transcript for this episode.

Let's Talk About Digital Identity
Let's Talk About Digital Identity

The podcast connecting identity and business. Each episode features an in-depth conversation with an identity management leader, focusing on industry hot topics and stories. Join Oscar Santolalla and his special guests as they discuss what’s current and what’s next for digital identity. Produced by Ubisecure.


Podcast transcript

Let’s Talk About Digital Identity, the podcast connecting identity and business. I am your host, Oscar Santolalla.

Oscar Santolalla: Hello and thank you for joining this new episode of Let’s Talk About Digital Identity. And today, we’ll have a geographical focus perspective in which today we’ll focus on the Middle East. And for that we have very special guests who is Dr Salah Rustum. He is a PhD in Aerodynamics, and has occupied very high positions in this field, including a vice presidency at Boeing.

Dr Rustum is also the founder of CIEL, a Lebanese company dealing in cybersecurity ever since 1990. And he is the founder of CIELTECH of Qatar, which has the same concept and has set its mission to support and develop the integrity of information technology and information sent on the internet. Hello, Dr Salah.

Dr Salah Rustum: Hi. How are you?

Oscar: Very good. It’s a pleasure having this conversation with you.

Salah: It’s my pleasure as well to be online with you. And I hope our meeting would be a good one and successful.

Oscar: Absolutely, I’m sure it’s going to be. So, let’s get started, let’s talk about digital identity. And as always, I want to hear something about our guest. So please tell us about yourself and your journey to the world of digital identity.

Salah: Well, as you said, I had my PhD from MIT, I worked with Lockheed Martin to begin with. And then I had an offer from Boeing which I couldn’t refuse. And later on, I was moved to, transferred actually to the Middle East, and started Boeing Middle East. It didn’t work there due to political reasons. And after that returned to the States continued my aviational career. During which I became the Chairman of the Introductory Commission of the Jumbo Jet in the world. I was the chairman of the Future Planning Commission of Rome Airport, and other different positions that I held throughout the time I served in aviation.

But the most outstanding of my career is my absolute transfer from aviation to technology, which I am intruding on it as my real study is concentrated on aviation and the effect of wind on any object. But the transition was easy as everything based on physics is easy. And it is easy comprehensible. I started with introducing the electronic digital signature as early as 1996. And from there on, it became – the scope became wider and wider. And we got to the extent that we started dealing with cybersecurity, and what it meant at that time and what it means now.

Of course, we did a lot of work on bridging the digital divide, which was very important between the Middle East and the West. And of course, it was very painful in the start, it was a very, very dark tunnel, which I entered. But luckily speaking, I managed to really introduce the sense of the electronic digital signature authentication, encryption, the confidentiality of the message and its long reputation.

We started our company in Beirut in 1974. And dealt with cybersecurity as it meant then, as the world meant then in the early ’70s. But throughout the time, and step by step, gradually, things developed, and the picture became clearer. And it was a pleasure looking back. If I have to look over my shoulder now and look back to what we have achieved, I would say we have done a lot. We have really done a lot in bridging the digital divide and bringing knowledge and new functionalities in the region.

Oscar: Yeah, excellent. I can imagine all the achievement you have had in so many years in the region. And with this fascinating start of your career with aviation and then merging to data identity with electronic signature to start that journey. Now that you have been working many bigger part of this digital identity journey in Lebanon, now in the last years, you have moved to Qatar, you definitely know very well the region. So, what would you say are the challenges, the main challenges that companies in the region, companies and organisation in the Middle East are facing today in terms of digital identity?

Salah: Well, if I may comment on that, the main challenges that we’re facing here and everybody faces here is their lack of comprehension of the essence of doing business over the internet, which requires authentication and encryption at the same time, and of course, applying digital laws, which are there, but nobody deals with them. This is the basic challenge.

On the other hand, the digital laws are quite understandable. They don’t differ in any way or the other from other digital laws, I would say, it’s good. I must emphasise that the problems we face here is the integration between conventional methods of doing business and doing business remotely from home or from other places. And it is really about when you pay so much for the conventional way on paper-based business, and then you want to go paperless. And what happens? Your budget is too high. And both parties, the laws that are really there and nobody pays attention to them are not taken into consideration. And this is the basic obstruction for the promotion and for the development of the digital ID in the region.

But in Qatar, if I may speak about the region, I’m in, I think it’s doing pretty well as the Highness the Prince of Qatar is most enthusiastic about converting Qatar to a 100% paperless country, and he’s not sparing anything to stop him from achieving that objective. And of course, it’s not enough that the will of His Highness is there, it needs the other people around to support his wish, which is still, I wouldn’t describe it as incompetency. No. But slackness in putting things in order and abiding by the digital law, which nobody pays attention to it at all. And at the same time, they don’t know that there is a digital law since 2012.

I reckon these are the basic obstructions that hinder the advancement of the digital era in the region as a whole. I’m not speaking of a certain particular country. Nope, but I’m speaking in general.

Oscar: Yeah, yeah. As you said, the understanding, right? The understanding of how things work in the digital world. And also, you have mentioned that even though there are some digital laws, they are not fully understanding, fully put in practice.

Salah: There is another thing, time isn’t really taken into consideration. “Yeah, OK, we’ll do it tomorrow.” But tomorrow never comes. It could be a week, it could be two weeks, it could be three weeks, but ultimately it comes. But converting a country from one type of business to another, or not only one type of business, but one type of doing things to technology, time makes a big difference in its application.

Oscar: Yeah, definitely. And seeing all these obstacles that you have described, have you seen some – what will you say about the solution? Solutions that have already put in practice or potential solutions that you believe that they will solve these obstacles. What will you say about the solutions?

Salah: It’s raising awareness. And that’s what we’ve been doing ever since 1990. We’re raising awareness to all people at all levels, whether it is in the public sector or in the private sector. And raising awareness isn’t something that you could do overnight. It takes not days, not months, it takes years to change the concept of doing business. But so far, so good, from say turn of the century in 2000, where after 22 years, I think the region has advanced a lot. And there is a big significant change in the attitude of the people as a whole in both the private and the public sectors.

Oscar: So yeah, raising awareness is super important. It’s one of the first thing that has to be done. And as you clearly said it takes years.

Salah: Yes. There is another thing. In most countries of the region, and I reckon in most of the world, the SMEs play a very important role in the development of the country, because sometimes it’s 70% are SMEs, 30% are the larger and bigger companies, organisations. So, if we don’t really treat the SMEs and tell them what to do, and give them proper advice, to move into technology, and into doing business the right way, and becoming paperless, it’s very difficult to really make a nationwide change.

But as far as Qatar is concerned, they have special programs about it, the same thing applies in United Arab Emirates, and the same thing applies and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. And the same thing applies in Kuwait, and in Sultanate of Oman, and Lebanon, of course. But you have to try to give them solutions that are inexpensive. A company that has two employees, if you tell it, “All right, you want to become paperless, it’s going to cost you $50,000.” Nobody’s going to say, “All right, I’m in.” And there are ways and means to do it in a very cheap manner.

And there are ways that the technology offers itself for the promotion of SMEs in the world. And we should take advantage of that, listen to sound advice, and implement it. A basic issue is that there is much talk about it, and little action is taken. We have to reverse the issue. We need to do a lot and talk less.

Oscar: Yeah, a better balance. Absolutely. Absolutely agree. Yeah. And it’s a great point that you made about the small and medium enterprises, the SMEs, which, yeah, we don’t talk too often actually in – when we have guests talking about digital identity, we tend to talk about the corporations or also government, but we don’t talk too much about the SMEs. And it’s true, in the Middle East, not only there, in many other parts of the world they are a big part of the country’s economies.

Salah: The SMEs are the people who form the majority of the business. I mean, you can’t ignore them. We have to tell them, “Hey, get on the train now.” Otherwise, the gap between the bigger companies and the SMEs is going bigger. And that’s not healthy at all, because there will be different societies, richer and poorer. And this will create problems later on in the foreseen future. I’m not saying in the far-fetched future. No, immediately, probably in a few years, you will see a big difference between the big enterprises and the smaller enterprises.

Oscar: Something else you have mentioned shortly before is the digital laws. You mentioned that caught my attention. You mentioned that I think in Qatar, which one example you mentioned, you mentioned that the law was already released in 2012. Which country was that? And please tell me also, how is across several countries in the Middle East, so do many of these countries have a data law already for a long time ago? How was the status?

Salah: Yes, actually, all countries in the Middle East in the MENA region, let’s say Middle East and North Africa, they have digital laws. I personally have assisted in Lebanon, Kuwait, Egypt, Iraq, these are the countries that I have personally assisted in the digital laws. But unfortunately, our Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, State of Qatar, the Emirates, Bahrain, they have their digital laws, and it’s very good. But as I said earlier, it is not implemented, or partially implemented. And this doesn’t make one plus one, two. It makes one plus one, sometimes one or like when you say the square root of one is one. That’s it.

I mean, we need to apply these digital laws to indoctrinate people. When the people say, or IT manager says, “Well, I don’t need to apply to protect my email because it’s protected.” That’s a very illogical argument. Nothing is protected over the internet. And nobody has forced anybody to go over the internet for the love of the internet. Nobody. Each company, each organisation went on the internet because of its own freewill.

And they think that since they are sitting behind their computers and doing business, that means nobody is going to see them. They don’t know that there are middlemen, there are hackers, there are so many different types of hacking and spear phishing, and so on and so forth, that disrupts the flow of work of their companies or organisations. And this is ignorance.

And still, up to this very last minute, we’re talking now, we carry on raising awareness for any company that contracts with us for the provision of solution, or two or three solutions put together. We do the training free of charge, because it’s very good and you feel safe when everybody is [0:15:51] [Indiscernible] of what’s going on. And little knowledge is dangerous.

So, I think it’s – the best way is to educate. And this is our role, we started raising awareness since 1990. And when I started talking about it in 1990, everybody, it was a dark, very dark tunnel, with hardly zero glimpse of light in it. But look now, I mean, after 30 years, it’s totally different. Everybody wants to be on the internet, everybody wants to apply in new technologies. The danger is that sometimes they get wrong advices. And they pay you a lot for these wrong advices. And this is the problem that not only in the Middle East and North Africa, MENA countries, but in Europe and the United States, and even South America, and whatever it is. I mean, there are many people that give wrong advices just for making money, they don’t care how.

I would say, if I may describe it as treacherous, it shouldn’t be. We should have our own code of ethics, when you try to educate, when you try to become computer literate. And you know what’s going around you in technology. The law is there. But the law doesn’t teach you, you have to read. And how can you convince people to read? I would say, many people are reading and that’s why the MENA region has developed tremendously, and I bet it’s going to be a good, developed region in the world that deals with the technology on a very high and sophisticated level.

Oscar: Yeah. Excellent. Excellent to hear that. So definitely, we will be following the developments in this region on the MENA region, as you describe, your being involved also, in not only Middle East, but Northern Africa, countries. And we look at the – the future, it’s always difficult to get it right, talking about the future. But in the near future, let’s see, how do you foresee digital identity in this region?

Salah: I think that the future of the MENA region is beautiful. And I think it will turn into a multibillion dollar worth of business. It’s escalating exponentially. And I have no fear whatsoever that the MENA region is really erupting. But I have to be very true with myself first to be able to address the others. I need to know the weak points to enable me suggest a solution. I can’t take things in general; we go into specifics. And the future of the region is pretty high. And I suggest that those who are not in this area, they’re going to suffer of the expansion and of the boom, that’s happening, and it’s going to multiply in the very foreseen future.

Oscar: Would you foresee is economical growth in the region?

Salah: Absolutely. And so many other different positions will be made available.

Oscar: Yes, definitely, super interesting to see in the years to come, how its evolved, and how of course the use of digital identity is part of that success.

Salah: Yes, it is. If you look at Egypt, for example, if you take Egypt as an example, over 100 million people and a big country and its government is definitely planning to go in the right direction. So, what’s stopping it? Nothing is stopping it. It’s undergoing the different changes that are required for the promotion and the achievement of what you call going paperless. Having a government that deals electronically only, that deals with its subjects and residents alike without the use of conventional methods of doing business. That saves a lot on time. That saves a lot on space. That saves a lot on the efficiency and the productivity of any office involved in this.

Speaking of Qatar, and speaking of the United Arab Emirates, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf states, let’s speak of the Gulf states without mentioning them. The Gulf states are the leaders in this field, but they could do better. It’s not enough. In technology, there is no place called stationary, I can rest now. I have achieved what I want to achieve. In physics, there is no point called stationary. If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backwards. And that is technology, if you don’t keep on moving forward, you’re actually moving backward. And technology can’t afford that. And I think to what the region has adapted itself to, I think they have done a pretty good job.

But I’m a perfectionist by nature. And that’s why I’m criticising myself first, to be able to improve on what needs to be worked at. Before? No. IT, no, don’t speak to me about IT. No, no, no, no. Information Technology, don’t speak to me about it. I don’t understand that, well, you know. And when you go to the politicians, it’s even worse. And they tell you, “There is no time for it. We are busy with other political issues now.”

But now, at present, everything has changed. There is time for discussing politics. And there is enough time for technology. And it’s being practiced, and it’s being cultivated, and its end results are being felt. And that’s the beauty of technology, you realise it immediately. You’ll see it in front of you.

And I would like to go back to the question, what do you foresee for the future of the region? It’s going to be a beautiful haven here. Really, many people, including the West, are going to be not only surprised, astonished of the remarkable advancement achieved in this part of the world. When there is a will there is a way. And I’m sure the will is here, and we have found the way. This is the future of this region.

Oscar: Yes, very promising indeed.

Salah: It might differ between one country to the other by one or two points or three points. But that’s negligible. The trend is to change. And one more thing which hinders is IPv6, the introduction of IPv6, which nobody yet has talked about. And I don’t think the present IPv4 is going to last long. But so far, nobody has made any effort to change to IPv6, and the need is on demand.

Oscar: Thanks a lot for really enlightening us what is been happening. It’s happening today and it’s coming in the future in the Middle East and the MENA region. I would like to ask your final question, Dr Salah, for all business leaders that are listening to us now, so what is the one actionable idea that they should write on their agendas today?

Salah: If they need to go digital and be a paperless country or company or organisation, participating and practicing e-commerce and move to a remote work, they have to choose the right scalable solution. We don’t do it or don’t do it at all. I mean, you can’t say “I’ll apply half the way, half measures taken.” It’s bad. Don’t do it. If you don’t do it 100% correct, don’t do it at all. Because it will be more costly to salvage what would be left from a cyber-attack maybe. It is very dangerous to do work wrongly as it could cost money, time and reputation.

We are doing our level best and we are doing a pretty good job. We are active in every, what you call it seminar, workshop, conferences, we are there to say a word and try to be a good example to the to the public, and at the same time, a try to be down to Earth. We don’t live in the clouds and the people are on Earth down here. No, we are with the people, and we are working for the people, and we hope that we will achieve brilliant results.

Oscar: Fantastic. I’m sure you will do more results that you already have been achieving with this great job you do with CIEL, and CIELTECH now in Qatar. So, thank you so much, Dr Salah. Finally, I would like to hear how our listeners can continue this conversation with you, or follow you, or get in touch with you. What are the best ways for that?

Salah: Our email is [email protected]. CIELTECH, C-I-E-L T-E-C-H, CIELTECH. www.cieltech.qa, this is our website. Our email [email protected]. If we’re contacted, we’re ready to give immediate reply. We have very active and live buddy on ground. And there is also of course another one, [email protected].

Oscar: Perfect. Again, thanks a lot Dr Salah Rustum, it’s been a pleasure talking with you and I wish you all the best.

Salah: Thank you very much.

Thanks for listening to this episode of Let’s Talk About Digital Identity produced by Ubisecure. Stay up-to-date with episode at ubisecure.com/podcast or join us on Twitter @ubisecure and use the #LTADI. Until next time.