IBM's Ginni Rometty
IBM CEO Ginni Rometty and Senior Vice President Mike Rhodin (Photo: Jon Simon/Feature Photo Service for IBM)

IBM’s Watson Goes to Cybersecurity School

IBM hopes Watson will discover patterns and evidence of otherwise-hidden cyber attacks



IBM will address the cybersecurity skills gap by sending Watson to school, the company announced Tuesday. Watson for Cyber Security is part of a year-long research project in collaboration with 8 universities in the US and Canada.

The cloud-based cognitive system has been “trained” in the language of security, and beginning this fall Watson will be scaled to receive training from the California State Polytechnic University, Ponoma; Pennsylvania State University; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; New York University; the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC); the University of New Brunswick; the University of Ottawa, and the University of Waterloo. IBM’s X-Force research library will also be used as training material for Watson.

IBM hopes Watson will discover patterns and evidence of otherwise-hidden cyber attacks, allowing IBM to improve security analysts’ capabilities. Cognitive systems could automate the connections between data, emerging threats, and remediation strategies, the company said. It plans to use Watson for Cyber Security for deployments beginning in beta production this year.

Security analysts may need help, given the explosion in data available. IBM says the average organization sees over 200,000 pieces of security event data each day, and enterprises spend $1.3 million and nearly 21,000 hours just on false positives. The company also notes that the 75,000 items in the National Vulnerability Database, the 10,000 security research papers a year, and 60,000 security blogs published each month challenge analysts to move at the speed of information.

The looming problem is that they may not have an easy time hiring help, as studies have indicated that cybersecurity skills are in short supply.

“Even if the industry was able to fill the estimated 1.5 million open cyber security jobs by 2020, we’d still have a skills crisis in security,” said Marc van Zadelhoff, General Manager, IBM Security. “The volume and velocity of data in security is one of our greatest challenges in dealing with cybercrime. By leveraging Watson’s ability to bring context to staggering amounts of unstructured data, impossible for people alone to process, we will bring new insights, recommendations, and knowledge to security professionals, bringing greater speed and precision to the most advanced cybersecurity analysts, and providing novice analysts with on-the-job training.”

In addition to Watson’s training, UMBC announced it will create an Accelerated Cognitive Cybersecurity Laboratory in collaboration with IBM Research.

Cybersecurity may be the niche Watson needs to get out there and get a job in the real world, after failing to impress at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show.

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