The Cognitive Analyst and Artificial Intelligence

This is the final article in a three-part series on how IBM Watson for Cyber Security can help analysts win the arms race against cybercrime. Be sure to read part 1 and part 2 for the full story.

Augmenting the Cognitive Analyst

In just the time since I started writing this series, Watson and the way we work with it has evolved. An IBM employee prototyped a voice interface with his young son, for example. IBM also announced that Watson now works with MaaS360 for improved mobile security.

As it evolves, Watson will help to address a very real problem that has been growing in the security landscape for some years now: the cybersecurity skills gap. The need for experienced security analysts grows every year.

Since Watson is an augmentative technology, the intention is not to replace security operations center (SOC) analysts, but to make them more productive. They will become cognitive analysts in a cognitive SOC. This will create even more time and opportunities for senior IT professionals, who will not need to spend so many hours mentoring junior analysts.

Despite these potential benefits, a couple of questions consistently arise in conversations with peers in the industry: Will analysts’ skills atrophy if they are not doing the day-to-day digging? Furthermore, will Watson eventually render analysts redundant? What will it mean to be a cognitive analyst?

A Shift — Not a Loss — in Skills

The fear that moving from one methodology to another, especially one perceived as needing less effort, will cause skills to atrophy is as old as civilization. Take the fear of the Greeks at the move from an oral to a written tradition, for example. The concern, in that case, was that people would lose the ability to accurately memorize large amounts of information.

I recall when the electronic calculator was introduced at school. It caused much concern among parents and teachers who believed it would undermine the capability for mental arithmetic. Indeed, they were right. How many people do you know can memorize a long work, word for word? And you will still get a reaction in shops if you can tell the cashier the total cost of your items before the register adds it up.

The point is that nobody realistically expects anyone to do that kind of thing today. We do not even value it, except as a novelty. There are bigger and different problems we are looking to solve. Trying to use logarithmic tables can be fun, but if you want to model something complex, it would take you centuries to calculate it manually.

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The results of modern complex modeling include improved medicine, better sports outcomes, more functional cars and a better understanding of the universe. Now we use our minds to solve more complex problems since we have alleviated the burden of the small tasks.

During the Industrial Revolution, society moved to create different demands and different jobs. That new technology enabled and supported an almost tenfold growth in population in the U.K. in just 150 years. Similarly, I believe that analyst’s role will evolve rather than disappear. Everyone whose work is touched by the power of this augmentation technology will probably find that there are shifts in the way they approach the work and how they spend their time day to day. But ultimately, they will be shifting to work of higher value.

Strong Foundations for Strong Structures

Watson delivers threat information to the cognitive analyst more readily, having discounted material that is not relevant to the situation. In other words, Watson cuts down waste. It’s the difference between searching information in Google and having to go to the library to hunt through loads of paper journals to find exactly what you are looking for.

By focusing cognitive analysts’ attention on what really matters, Watson will help them learn the patterns of attacks. These patterns may have been lost in the noise previously, when analysts were still trying to identify the trees and could not see the forest.

What’s Next for Watson?

Watson is a very exciting technology with a great future, and it will transform the way we approach security.

Given the information that QRadar holds about an enterprise, with all its integrations and modules, I envision a future in which Watson provides advice on the best way to configure your network, servers and applications to counter the most current threat landscape. I imagine that Watson might one day write custom policies or rules in other technologies to protect your network. I can also see it providing an educational facility to train security specialists to detect and respond to the most likely threats for the specific industries in which they work.

Technology is great when it can make human lives better. We have this wonderful invention — the internet — and I want humanity to enjoy all the benefits of it without having to take unreasonable risks. Watson has endless potential to help us achieve exactly that.

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Valory Batchellor

UKI Security Channel Technical Lead, IBM

Valory has 10 years' experience in security with IBM. She is an author of 2 IBM security redbooks and currently provides technical leadership to IBM UK's ecosystem of security partners.