IBM, the world’s largest multinational technology and consulting corporation, has big plans for its Watson computer system, asking eight world-class universities, including three from Canada, to help them teach it how to fight impending cyber threats.
Watson, a technology platform made by IBM that uses natural language processing and machine learning, will need to first be taught key terms and definitions, like “malware,” “threat,” and “ransomware.” Armed with those basics, it’ll then be able to ingest and understand thousands of documents, including articles, blogs and studies about cybercrime.
This “unstructured data,” which includes the more than 60,000 security blogs that pop up on the internet every month, is what human security analysts spend hours pouring over to make faster and more informed decisions.
The difference between humans and Watson, though, is that Watson isn’t as susceptible to memory loss, and it can ingest and understand unstructured data after some training. And so, the goal is for Watson to eventually become one of the most powerful technologies available to companies and humans in the effort to combat cybercrime.
The Watson for Cybersecurity project is being undertaken by Cambridge-based IBM Security, a division of New York-based computer technology giant IBM (NYSE: IBM), MIT and seven other universities including New York University and California State Polytechnic University.
It’s a project aimed at addressing an enormous problem that’s compounded by the lack of cybersecurity talent to keep up with demand.
“The concerns are increasing dramatically, but the supply of trained workforces who understand how to deal with these issues is lacking,” said Stuart Madnick, a professor of engineering systems at MIT’s School of Engineering and a partner on the IBM Watson project. “We incorporate it into our curriculum and are improving the quality of education to our students, but that’s going to be nowhere near enough to close the gap.”
Adding Watson, Madnick said, increases the number of both humans and automated machines to address the problem.
The average enterprise-level business deals with more than 200,000 security events per day, leading 32 separate potential attacks daily, said Caleb Barlow, vice president of IBM Security. About $1.3 million is wasted, on average, annually, by businesses pursuing “false positives,” or cyber threats that don’t turn out to be legitimate threats, he said.
In the same way that Watson is being used to analyze massive amounts of patient data to diagnose rare diseases in the health care space, there is hope that Watson will be able to uncover new insights in the world of cybersecurity.
“It’s possible that with all the information digesting (Watson) is doing, it may come up with a cure, because there’s the possibility of discovering things that no one individual would notice,” Madnick said. “I could see the rise of a whole industry around discovering new ‘cures’ for cybersecurity in the same way as the pharmaceutical industry.”
Information about how much the Watson for Cybersecurity project costs was not disclosed, and Barlow said he’s unsure.