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 is IBM’s question answering computer system, a technology platform that uses natural language processing and machine learning to divulge insights from large amounts of unstructured data.

Watson’s initial purpose was rather more light-hearted, originally produced to win the favourite U.S. quiz show Jeopardy!, but its advanced technological process has since been used for various problem-solving tasks.

This week, IBM announced plans to launch Watson for Cyber Security, a brand new, cloud-based version of their innovative technology. The company’s research and development team recently concluded a year-long research project which taught Watson to understand the complex implications of security research findings – information that will soon be used to uncover hidden evidence of cyber-attacks that may previously have been missed.

Caleb Barlow, Vice-President of IBM Security, claims it is becoming ever more difficult to tackle cyber-crime due to the sheer scale of threats security staff encounter every day.

“Your average enterprise is dealing with 200,000 incidents a day that they’ve got to dig through. Human beings simply cannot look at all that data,” he told The Globe and Mail.

“Combine that with the fact we have a major skill shortage in the security industry – around 1.5 million jobs by 2020 – and even if we could fill all those jobs we still can’t get through the data as it continues to grow.”

While security professionals are doing their utmost to tackle cyber threats, Barlow claims that numbers they present via reports, presentations and blogs are far too big for any person to be able to read and remember. With careful programming however, Watson will have the full capabilities to perform this very task.

In order to develop the Watson program and close the rising skills gap, IBM has enlisted the help of students from eight leading universities, including the University of Ottawa, the University of New Brunswick and the University of Waterloo in Canada.

The project, due to start this fall, will see students input 15,000 documents relating to cyber security each month for the following year.

“The more information that Watson has, the better reasoning it can provide and therefore in some cases the better prediction it can provide,” said Ali Ghorbani, Dean of Computer Science at the University of New Brunswick.

“Our students are getting involved in a real-world cyber security project with a global company. Not only will they increase their knowledge, but also create a relationship with IBM for future collaborations – either jobs for our students or more research and development projects with IBM,” said Ghorbani.

Like other areas of the cloud industry, simple security tasks are shifting to be automated, allowing employees to focus on more critical business areas. IBM claims the average modern enterprise spends US$1.3 million dealing with false positive security event data each year.

Barlow believes that dispersing data among qualified, global security staff could make cyber-crime a much less profitable facet for organised crime.

“We start changing the dynamic for the bad guys because it’s not worth investing $100,000 or more in that new attack you’ve got if it’s only going to be viable for a few minutes before we find it and tell the rest of the world,” he said.

Other universities with students involved in the project include: California State Polytechnic, Pomona; Penn State; MIT; New York University; Maryland University and Baltimore County University.

Image via Flickr.

Liked this? Then you’ll love these…

Amazon is named the biggest US graduate employer in technology

Small businesses in Canada urged not to ‘overlook’ recent graduates