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Badge of honor Cybersecurity company Comodo is proud to have frustrated the CIA into a rude remark

Melih Abdulhayoglu, CEO and founder, Comodo.-(AARON HOUSTON)

In a series of leaks from Wikileaks laying bare the CIA’s arsenal of hacking tools and its communications between people in its cyber-war division was an email reference to a cyber-company in Clifton called Comodo.

“Comodo is a giant PITA,” the email starts.

“Pain in the ass — that’s what they called us,” Comodo CEO Melih Abdulhayoglu said. “We were quite proud, to be honest.”

It makes sense in its worldwide reach that the CIA’s team would have to do battle with the cybersecurity safeguards of Comodo, which oversees an impressive global share of the industry from its U.S. headquarters in the Garden State.

Abdulhayoglu, who founded the company originally in the United Kingdom, describes why the company’s prevention-based antivirus is so effective — even paired up against the CIA’s top recruits — in a way that sounds much simpler than it actually is.

Covering the bases

Melih Abdulhayoglu said there are multiple discrete areas of a business that need to be connected under a unified, secure framework.

A business has to protect its web presence as well as its presence on the cloud to be secure from cyberattacks, the CEO of Comodo said. But he also mentioned a third, more tangible area that businesses shouldn’t forget — the office.

Michelle Schaap, a Chiesa Shahinian & Giantomasi P.C. attorney with expertise in cybersecurity, touched on the often-overlooked potential for data breaches in a company’s physical space:

“Suppose I did trust and estates work; if I had lots of client information left in my desk or cabinets, a cleaning crew with a bad actor could simply take out a cell phone and take photos. … Or what’s to prevent someone from popping in a USB drive and getting files off the computer? These are everyday risks that are just as threatening to data as the most advanced cyberattacks.”

“The way that today’s antivirus works is by only stopping known malicious files,” he said. “But the problem is, you can’t stop what you haven’t seen. What that means is you’re allowing unknown executable files to turn up and become malicious viruses.

“It’s like someone coming knocking on your door and you only letting them in if they’re a stranger. We wouldn’t do that in our homes, so why would we in our virtual world?”

Comodo commands more than 600,000 business clients and around 8,000 partners and affiliates around the globe, including governments and international consortiums. It has racked up more than 85 million installations of its security software.

It’s also the world’s leader in issuing the digital certificates that encrypt traffic between internet users and a web service, which protects users against third-party eavesdropping.

In the most layman of layman’s terms — you see that padlock symbol on your browser when visiting a web page? Most of the time, it’s Comodo protecting you.

The digital certificates, which were only within the past decade or so embraced as a standard, have been issued by Comodo to web pages of the world’s largest corporations, financial institutions, government entities and even some recent political campaigns.

“We’ve protected everyone from Trump to Hillary’s website,” said Abdulhayoglu, who mischievously added, “We didn’t protect her email server — we should’ve; she should’ve asked us to.”

You can count on a joke from Abdulhayoglu (who, as a Turkey native but having moved to the U.K. as a young adult, says that he enjoys kebabs and fish and chips in equal measure).

But the quick-witted entrepreneur, who built his first electronic circuit at the age of 9 and is now one of New Jersey’s wealthiest cybersecurity executives, could not sound more earnest when speaking about the mission of the firm he founded in 1998.

“I have an innate desire to protect,” he said. “People ask if I was insecure as a child and if that’s why I feel the need to secure people. But I had a great childhood, (so) I don’t know where it comes from, yet I definitely have that innate desire and I believe it manifests itself in these products.”

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