ALD23: Dr Fatemah Alharbi, Computer Scientist

Dr Fatemah Alharbi

Dr Fatemah Alharbi, فاطمة الحربي, is an award-winning cybersecurity consultant, researcher and computer scientist who works to detect and analyse weak spots in security networks. In 2019, she made global headlines for identifying a flaw in the security systems of some of the world’s biggest tech companies.

Born and raised in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Alharbi’s interest in cybersecurity was first sparked during her bachelor’s degree in computer science at King Abdulaziz University. She went on to gain a master’s degree in the same subject at California State University, completing her PhD at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) in 2020.

A self-described “white hat hacker”, Alharbi hacks to find weaknesses or defects in computer systems as a way of improving network security. In 2019, while still a PhD candidate, she realised there was a problem in the Apple macOS, Linux Ubuntu, and Microsoft Windows security systems.

This flaw allowed any hacker to force the browser to visit a hacker-controlled site – making victims believe they were on a safe site and potentially causing them to hand over personal information to hackers. Alharbi contacted Apple to alert them to the issue, sharing all the relevant technical details and code. The company subsequently released a new update for all Apple devices, credited Alharbi on its website and added her to the system’s list of contributors.

Alharbi is now an assistant professor in the Computer Science Department at Taibah University, Yanbu, Saudi Arabia, as well as a visiting assistant researcher at UCR. Her research has been published in journals including IEEE Transactions on Dependable and Secure Computing and presented at prestigious conferences including USENIX, CCS and INFOCOM. Her ultimate goal is to build cybersecurity “systems and tools that will result in long-lasting real-world impact”.

In 2023, she was featured as one of “40 under 40” cybersecurity specialists to watch by Cyber News magazine.

You can follow her work here:

Twitter: @fatemahalharbi

Further Reading

Written by Moya Crockett, with thanks to Stylist for their support.

Posted in Ada Lovelace Day 2023.