Interview with Dr. Samah Mansour, GVSU School of Computing

By Steven Assarian, Business and Career Librarian

Steve: Why don't you introduce yourself? Tell them tell us a little bit about your background and experience.

Dr. Mansour: Sure. I'm Dr. Samah Mansour, Assistant Professor at the School of Computing at Grand Valley State University. I am the director of the cybersecurity master's program, where I teach cryptography, Ethical Hacking, and Data Analytics for Cybersecurity to our graduate students. My main experience in cryptography is my PhD, where I did research on authentication protocols for IoT (Internet of Things) devices.

S: Well, one of the things that we were seeing in the library world is that a ton of really good books about cryptocurrency were hitting the shelves. So why don't you tell us a little bit about for the uninitiated, what is a cryptocurrency? 

M: Cryptocurrency is a digital or virtual currency. And it uses cryptography for security. So, unlike traditional currencies that are issued by governments or central banks, cryptocurrencies operate on a decentralized network that is based on the blockchain technology. 

S: You mentioned blockchain; what’s that? Why is that so important to this kind of technology? 

M: It’s one of the technologies that power cryptocurrency. Blockchains are distributed ledgers, and what is inside this ledger is all the records of transactions. It is a chain of multiple blocks; each block has a list of transactions, and of course, complex computational operations happen in order for those blocks to be built. Because these blocks are decentralized, they’re very hard to hack or disrupt. That’s how cryptocurrencies ensure transparency and security. 

S: In terms of the current trends in cryptocurrency, are there any kind of coins or kind of efforts that you see as particularly innovative in the space right now?

M: We’re seeing cryptocurrencies with their own strengths. For example, Solana is gaining a lot of attention these days. Why? Because it has a high throughput which means high speed and also it charges a lower transaction fee. There’s a market (for cryptocurrencies) that’s constantly improving. 

S: One of the things that was really big in recent years were Initial Coin Offerings, or ICOs, where cryptocurrencies were brought to market. Are we still seeing a lot of activity? Or have things stabilized? 

M: ICOs are a fundraising method used by cryptocurrency projects to raise capital. In an ICO, a new cryptocurrency is offered to early investors in exchange for funding. Investors typically purchase these tokens using established cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin or Ethereum. I think the market is maturing. In those times, there was a lot of hype and realistic voices got drowned out. Today, people don't have as much money to take risks and buy new cryptocurrencies. We’re seeing more regulation trying to protect investors, as well as safeguards to ensure that cryptocurrencies won’t be used for crime like money laundering or fraud. So while we’ll see fewer ICOs, investors are getting a safer environment to invest. 

S: But that’s an issue, right? Part of the pitch of crypto was that it's decentralized finance, that a user can cut out middlemen like banks. But it seems like now we’re reintroducing middlemen into that space. So what does that mean for the technology? 

M: It’s kind of an open question because you know, what do you want the technology to do? Do you want it to be the wild west or do you want something normal people can invest in and utilize? It is like in cybersecurity: we need to protect people, right, we want to protect their privacy, we want it to make sure they are safe. But at the same time, this can be at the expense of user experience, political goals, and so on. So usually you will find the challenge is to keep this balance between regulations that we will apply on the cryptocurrency and the innovation we want in the space.

S: One of the things that I think is kind of under covered in, in, in kind of, because a lot of crypto news is either national or you look at these, like bigger states like California and Texas. So like, what is happening in crypto in Michigan? Are we seeing a bunch of mining operations coming online?

M: We are seeing some mining operations and other companies in the state. But we will not go to the same scale like New York or California. But I think by having more regulations, it will make people more confident, and that will encourage more adoption. Whatever happens outside Michigan will come to Michigan on some level. 

S: What are the trends in the tech industry that you're seeing? What do you think the next 20 years of the tech industry is gonna look like? 

M: I think the tech industry is shifting and changing all the time. You can find some jobs that can be outsourced very easily, which is where you can find some of the layoffs. But there are other jobs in IT that cannot be outsourced and it has to stay local. In terms of education, it's likely that the Computer Science major will evolve, adopting various new forms, with a notable rise in specialization and interdisciplinary collaboration.

S: Wow. Really? Why is that? 

M: There are many branches coming out of computer science. It is web development, software engineering, cybersecurity, and data mining, all these concepts were under the big umbrella. But right now, the branches are starting to grow by themselves. So for example, software engineering, instead of being part of computer science, it will be a program by itself. Data science and AI will be programmed by themselves. Cybersecurity is already that way. 

S: There’s so much new technology out there, new trends and ideas that we have to understand. Do you have any advice that speaks to how we should be dealing with these new trends and technologies?

M: I think the best advice would be: be human.