Taher Elgamal

Taher Elgamel Marconi Society

Awarded the Marconi Prize in 2019

Cited for developing SSL/TLS and other contributions to the security of communications.

Presented at the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos, CA

Dr. Elgamal is the Chief Technology Officer, Security at Salesforce and is recognized as the “Father of SSL” or Secure Sockets Layer. SSL and its successor, Transport Layer Security (TLS) are protocols for establishing and encrypting links between network computers. These protocols enable network participants to authenticate themselves using digital certificates and protects the data they exchange against eavesdropping and tampering.

“By addressing the need for end-to-end confidentiality and authenticity —which the Internet’s early developers deliberately omitted from the unclassified design —Kocher’s and Elgamal’s joint efforts played a critical role in enabling further development and scaling of the Internet,” says Dr. Vinton Cerf, Chair of the Marconi Society.

Elgamal did not set out to be a crypotographer. Coming to Stanford University in the late 70s to study electrical engineering, he met Marty Hellman (2000 Marconi Prize recipient and co-inventor of Public Key Encryption) and immediately became interested in cryptography. He received his PhD in 1984 and joined Hewlett Packard Labs before leaving to cofound a data compression start up company. Elgamal subsequently served in top technical positions and Hellman ultimately introduced him to Kocher at Netscape Communications.

Netscape turned out to be a perfect fit for the talents of both Elgamal and Kocher. Kocher’s contributions primarily focused on the development of the SSL/TLS protocol itself. Elgamal led the adoption of SSL as a free and transparent industry standard, with SSL 3.0 becoming the basis for the IETF TLS standards.

In November 1996 Elgamal and Kocher published a public description of how two computers could establish an encrypted channel so that anyone could create a secure tunnel between two machines. Elgamal also secured Netscape’s support for making the protocol free to everyone, including Netscape’s competitors. He subsequently led a successful effort to get IETF to use SSL 3.0 as the basis for an industry standard which became known as TLS, crucially gaining Microsoft’s support over an alternative Microsoft already had developed internally. Having a single broadly-accepted standard with compatibility between the leading companies was essential in preventing fragmentation of the web.

Beyond SSL/TLS, both Elgamal and Kocher have made significant contributions to the practice of cryptography. In addition to designing the public-key technique known as Elgamal encryption, Elgamal developed the Elgamal digital signature algorithm which forms the basis for the U.S. digital signature standard called ECDSA. As Chief Technical Officer of Security at Salesforce, he is responsible for developing and managing the Salesforce.com security solutions and infrastructure.

Elgamal is also a recipient of the RSA Conference 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award.