Tuesday, September 29, 2015

SVP Usman Shuja at SparkCognition talks about using IBM Watson against cyber-threats

SparkCognition, identified on Google as “The Cognitive Security Analytics Company,” is an Austin-based start-up that is applying IBM Watson technology to the solution of cyber-security problems.  SparkCognition Senior VP Usman Shuja spoke today with Etopia News to discuss how it does this.

He began by explaining that it keeps its massive security corpus/repository/data base current by constantly searching for new information about cyber-threats and how to remediate them.  Humans play a significant role in finding new threads about threats and other security-related data for Watson to ingest.    

Shuja said that his company’s SparkSecure system, powered by IBM Watson, is ideally suited to deal with the kinds of cyber-attacks on commercial and governmental systems that have been so much in the news of late.

Starting with proprietary algorithms for detecting anomalous, malicious intrusions into the computer systems it is protecting, SparkSecure also uses other techniques, including “machine learning” to constantly upgrade its own capabilities.  This currently takes the form of “supervised learning” in which humans provide feedback to Watson, so it can learn from its mistakes, as well as strengthen and reinforce the correct actions it has been taking in certain circumstances.

Watson attaches a “confidence level” to its recommendations, which allows its human users to assess the relative usefulness of various suggestions.

The combination of SparkSecure and Watson enables the use of “predictive analytics,” wherein Watson, using the massive security repository it is operating with, can identify threats in large volumes of data, and deliver signatures of those threats to the IT staff responsible for system security.  SparkSecure has successfully discovered several new threats.

According to Shuja, an average of fifteen percent of a company’s computer traffic is malicious.  SparkSecure, he says, can identify that traffic and protect against it, thereby reducing the strain on system resources that these threats create.

Asked about the possible use of Watson to parse and analyze legal material, he said that this was a use case similar to what Watson is already doing in the medical field, where it diagnoses disease on the basis of the data presented to it and its understanding of a massive corpus of medical information, greater than what any one person could assimilate and recall.  He said SparkCognition had no plans for such a general legal system, but that it did have a goal of helping a client develop a system for Watson-mediated compliance assistance on its road map.

He further explained that the Watson Ecosystem was a program to involve developers in the discovery of new use cases for Watson.  He said that SparkCognition was a Premium Partner in this ecosystem, and that it was the only Watson-based company working on cognitive solutions against cyber-attacks.  “Nobody else,” he said, “is using Watson for cyber-security.”

He pointed out that companies using SparkSecure have not yet reported any security breaches. 

He also mentioned that using SparkSecure can reduce 10 hours spent doing remediation to 8 hours.

He emphasized that the SparkSecure model means that no client data is shared, but that successful remediation strategies used in one instance are added to the security repository for re-use in new situations.

In Machines of Loving Grace:  The Quest for Common Ground Between Humans and Robots, author John Markoff distinguishes between AI and IA, Artificial Intelligence that does work by itself, and Intelligence Augmentation technologies, that assist humans in doing their work better.  Shuja made it clear that SparkSecure “is an augmentation use case.”  He said the system allows for an “auto-remediation” mode, but that most of the company’s clients use it to assist them in their work, not to replace staff.

He said it was inevitable that malicious hackers would develop innovative new attacks, but that the company was constantly on the alert for them and was prepared to meet any such new challenges.

Asked about a potential IPO, the senior VP said that, based on the traction they were already getting, they ought to be able “to build a large, successful company.”  He thought they could do this “in a couple of years or less.”  He said it was possible that a larger company could acquire SparkCognition.  “Time will tell,” he concluded. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

SparkCognition’s SparkSecure, powered by IBM Watson, can predict and help prevent cyber attacks

Etopia News reached out to SparkCognition, part of the IBM Watson Ecosystem, and the leading cognitive security analytics company, asking if its systems could be used to protect the kind of processing that IBM Watson Health could do with electronic health records (EHRs).  Here’s what Amir Husain, Founder, CEO, and President of SparkCognition, had to say in reply:

”Yes, this is quite possible to do. Watson can have access to a variety of different types of knowledge based on the active corpus it has been trained on. SparkCognition has created a substantial security corpus that informs Watson of threats, remediation policies, software configuration and more. The same cloud resources can be used to host a Watson instance focused on health care information interpretation, while another Watson instance - using our CyberSecurity extensions to Watson, and our security corpus - can deliver security insights on the underlying healthcare app and access patterns to it.

“Watson is very useful when it comes to question and answer applications, where a human user has to find a quick and specific answer to a question that would otherwise require a lot of reading. SparkCognition's SparkSecure is useful for pattern construction, threat detection and other security focused alert, analysis and remediation flows. These two systems working together can secure many apps, including other Watson apps.

“As further elaboration of SparkSecure's security capabilities:

“SparkSecure provides predictive threat identification, detailed analytics, source reputation insight and many other capabilities. The deep data-driven insights enabled with SparkSecure allow even advanced attacks to be identified and isolated. When SparkSecure detects a new threat because of an underlying anomalous pattern it engages its automated natural language research capability to query web repositories and gain an understanding of the new attack. The result is an analysis and a percentage likelihood indicating whether the researched threat was a probable attack. With SparkCognition’s IBM Watson integration, IT teams are equipped with in-context consultation on how to deal with emerging threats. The question-and-answer prowess of Watson allows IT professionals to conduct a dialogue with the cognitive system in order to quickly understand the threat and arrive at a practical resolution. The key point is that, in this context, Watson is a research tool to extend what SparkSecure has learned. It is not useful to directly dump cryptic data such as logs, for example, directly into Watson.  So once SparkSecure detects a threat, Watson, with the right corpus, can tell an admin what that threat does and how to protect against it.”

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Thomson Reuters “has work underway around artificial intelligence and predictive analytics” for its Westlaw legal data service, but isn’t using Watson

John Shaughnessy, Vice President, Corporate Affairs, at Thomson Reuters, publishers of the Westlaw legal data service, today answered a query from Etopia News about their use of IBM Watson to analyze and add value to their vast data bases of legal information.

“You had a question regarding Westlaw and Watson,” Shaughnessy said in voice mail he left this morning.  “We do have work underway around artificial intelligence and predictive analytics.  It’s all centered on our own search engine development, but we do not have anything underway with IBM and Westlaw.”


Friday, September 18, 2015

No Federal Robotics Commission in the offing, but Senator Feinstein wants to regulate consumer drones

Due to Republican recalcitrance to spend money on science-and-technology-based initiatives and general orneriness there is no chance of the Congress approving the creation of a Federal Robotics Commission, as called for here.

But there’s a good chance that some robot regulation will take place if U.S. Senator from California Diane Feinstein’s pending bill, the “Consumer Drone Safety Act,” SB1608, is included as part of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)’s Re-authorization bill later this year.
According to a summary of the bill prepared by the Senator’s staff:

“The development of new, highly capable drones available commercially to untrained consumers carries great potential and great risk. While many drone enthusiasts are conscientious, the expanding use of these drones could have terrible consequences if not properly managed.

“The FAA is receiving more than one report per day of unauthorized or dangerous drone activity near airplanes and airports. The Consumer Drone Safety Act would put in place common-sense safety precautions to minimize the risk of a disastrous mid-air collision or crash to the ground.

“Safety Requirements for Consumer Drones

“The Consumer Drone Safety Act calls for new safety regulations on ‘consumer drones,’ which it defines as small civil unmanned aircraft that are manufactured for commercial distribution and are equipped with an automatic stabilization system or a camera for navigation.”

The bill is currently pending in the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation..

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Kaiser Permanente is not using Watson, but is including it in its review process

Kaiser Permanente is a preeminent HMO, about which you can learn more here.

IBM is the creator and owner of the Watson technology that beat humanity’s best competitors on Jeopardy! in 2011 and has only been getting smarter and cheaper since.  It’s now available in the cloud. 
Epic provides Electronic Health Record (EHR) management systems for healthcare organizations.

The Mayo Clinic is, in the words of U.S. News and World Report:   “Ranked #1 in More Specialties than any other Hospital in the Nation.”

 On May 5, 2015, IBM announced that it was partnering with Epic and the Mayo Clinic to apply Watson’s cognitive computing capabilities to the data in the Mayo Clinic’s Epic EHR database.  You can read the details here.

Since Epic also provides EHR data management services for Kaiser, Etopia News asked that organization if it was going to use Watson also.  Here’s what Kaiser had to say:

“Kaiser Permanente regularly reviews new technologies, such as Watson, as part of our ongoing commitment to high quality patient care, service and safety. We are not using the technology at this time.”

A call has been placed with the Media Office at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona regarding details of the IBM Watson Health-Epic-Mayo Clinic data collaboration and whatever they have to say will appear here soon after they say it.