IBM Taps Top Universities to Train Watson on Cyber-Security

IBM Security announced Watson for Cyber Security, a new cloud-based version of Watson, and enlisted eight universities to help train it.

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IBM Watson

IBM has trained its Watson cognitive computing system to handle a number of tasks, from serving as a customer service rep, to sales assistant, to health care services assistant to help doctors diagnose and treat cancer. But now, with the help of eight universities, IBM is training Watson to be on the lookout for cyber-crime.

IBM has enlisted the help of an initial set of eight universities to train Watson to help patch, eliminate and monitor cyber-security weaknesses.

Big Blue announced Watson for Cyber Security, a new cloud-based version of the company's cognitive technology trained in the language of security as part of a year-long research project. To further scale the system, IBM is collaborating with the universities to expand the collection of security data on which IBM has trained the new system.

Caleb Barlow, vice president, IBM Security, told eWEEK IBM is telling a "three-pronged" story where last year, in the first thrust, the company opened its 20-year-strong vault of security intelligence to the world with X-Force Exchange.

"We put that out to the world for free, and that changed the dynamic for the bad guys," he said. "We told the world about what they were doing. That helped take the wind out of their sails, because that made it harder for the bad guys to initiate their attacks."

The second chapter of that story came earlier this year when IBM revealed the engine behind its analytics tools, which opened its Security App Exchange on top of the IBM QRadar security intelligence platform, Barlow said.

Barlow said the third step is opening the 80 percent of security information that is held in unstructured format so that it also can be pored through, analyzed and presented to security analysts along with the structured data that cyber-security personnel can currently access. The unstructured data includes material such as security blogs and security research that have not been tapped in the past, he said.

In short, IBM is enlisting the help of top cyber-security institutions to help train Watson in the art and language of cyber-security. Barlow said the collective goal of this project is to provide talented cyber-security professionals with the ability to consistently maintain speed and precision in their day-to-day work.

This project also helps address the cyber-security skills gap while helping train Watson on the nuances of security research findings and discover behavior patterns and evidence of hidden cyber-attacks and threats that might otherwise be missed. IBM is trying to improve security analysts' capabilities using cognitive systems that automate the connections between data, emerging threats and remediation strategies.

Starting this fall, IBM will work with leading universities to further train Watson on the language of cyber-security, including: California State Polytechnic University, Pomona; Pennsylvania State University; Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); New York University; the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC); the University of New Brunswick; the University of Ottawa and the University of Waterloo.

"We are seeing technologies like artificial intelligence, automation and robotics being used in more and more aspects of our economy," Joseph Blankenship, a senior analyst at Forrester Research, told eWEEK. "Cyber-security is one of the areas where cognitive computing can [be of] great benefit."

Indeed, cyber-security is a complex problem that has until now been addressed by a combination of technology and skilled human analysts, he said. Yet, the shortage of skilled, experienced security practitioners, combined with the volume and velocity of attacks, has made human analysts a bottleneck in security operations. There simply aren't enough skilled analysts to address all of the alerts that are hitting enterprises, Blankenship noted.