IBM begins beta testing to teach Watson more to combat cyber crime

Fredericton – The University of New Brunswick is part of an international group of institutions set to begin testing IBM’s cognitive technology in the battle against cybercrime.

IBM’s question-answering computer system, known as Watson, was originally designed to compete on the TV quiz show Jeopardy, but the technology has since been used on other problem solving projects from clothing design to cancer – and now cybercrime.

Caleb Barlow, vice-president of IBM Security, says 40 organizations will begin beta testing of the cognitive technology.

“The learning process is going well. Part of this is getting it out there to several beta customers including the University of New Brunswick, California Polytechnic State, Sun Life Financial, University of Rochester Medical Centres, and others,” Barlow said in an interview.

Barlow says by teaching Watson to track reports, blogs and other information on emerging threats they’ll be able to assist companies facing cyber-attacks.

“It’s not just about learning the language of security. We want it to learn the language of security in the context of real world environments and the context of a diverse set of industries,” he said.

New Brunswick has been aiming to enhance Fredericton’s role as a “centre of excellence” for cybersecurity.

Ali Ghorbani, UNB’s dean of computer science, said the beta testing will provide valuable experience for his students.

“They’ll be amongst the very first ones to actually work with IBM to gain real world experience in this area,” Ghorbani said.

“Our students will be teaching Watson and then testing and validating the training,” he said.

Barlow said cognitive technology will help security teams find and detect cyber threats, but it won’t replace humans.

“The amount of structured data that is coming in is really astounding. On average now, a good sized security operation centre will see 200,000 pieces of data a day – security related incidents or events,” he said.

He said by 2020 there will be two million unfilled cybersecurity jobs.

“We have to be able to come up with tooling to allow you to augment your workforce. We can’t solve this with people alone. We need to be able to mine and access these large data environments to be able to figure out what the priority tasks are to work on,” Barlow said.

For now, Watson won’t take action against any cyber threat. Instead it will offer advice on what to do.

Barlow said it’s unclear how much beta testing Watson will need before it’s ready to take on the job of combating cyber threats. He said it all depends on how fast Watson learns.

“We are in completely unchartered territory here. No one has ever done this before. No one has ever had a system of this level of sophistication or this level of scale. We are excited to see how long it takes,” Barlow said.

By Kevin Bissett
The Canadian Press

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