A collaboration between an 11-year-old East Northport boy and his IBM inventor father has given voice to cybersecurity tools using that company’s Watson artificial intelligence system.
In November, Mike Spisak, whose title is chief transformation architect and master inventor, IBM Security, was joined by his son, Evan, as he worked in his basement “laboratory.” Spisak was seeking to apply artificial intelligence tools to the problem of cybersecurity. He was typing to a “chatbot” — a computer program that simulates human conversation — in the hope that it could develop into a tool that could provide cybersecurity answers to IBM’s corporate clients.
That’s when Evan, inspired by J.A.R.V.I.S., the AI assistant of comic book and movie hero Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, piped up: “Dad, why can’t you talk to it with your voice?”
That suggestion led father and son to tap into Watson through a Raspberry Pi, a simple, low-cost computer used in schools and by hobbyists.
The Spisaks used software recipes from BlueMix, IBM’s cloud-based development platform, to connect to the voice-response technology of Watson, which gained notoriety in 2011 by defeating two human champions on TV’s “Jeopardy.”
“BlueMix is built in such a way that even an 11-year-old is able to roll up his sleeves and get in there,” said Spisak, 44. “It only took about an hour.”
The duo code-named their project Havyn, as in safe haven. Spisak initially thought of it as a “father-son experiment for the weekend.”
But he soon realized the system could be of real use to cybersecurity analysts besieged by viruses, malware and phishing scams.
The average security operations center at a major corporation or other large organization is confronted with 200,000 security events per day that need investigation or response, according to IBM Research.
“They need to sift through mountains of data,” Spisak said. “It’s a struggle to keep up with cybersecurity threats.”
Havyn, he said, could be developed into a “cognitive security assistant” that could automate some tasks and help analysts understand incoming threats and vulnerabilities — in addition to talking to them. Specifically, the goal is to have Havyn interact with security analysts on topics such as real-time threat updates.
For instance, an analyst might ask: “Havyn, what’s my security posture?” Or “What threats am I facing?” Havyn would search the data and spit out natural language answers in real time.
“It’s more than having a slick interface,” Spisak said. “It’s using cognition — what the human brain goes through. It’s using analytics and interfaces to give a more natural experience” that could be applied to banking, health care and other industries.
Market researcher International Data Corp., based in Framingham, Massachusetts, forecasts that worldwide spending on cognitive computing systems will reach $31.3 billion by 2019.
IBM is betting that its cognitive intelligence initiatives — such as applying Watson to cybersecurity — will help revive stagnant revenue growth. The Armonk-based company’s first-quarter revenue announced in April showed a 3 percent decline.
The volume of cybercrimes confronting businesses, government agencies and other organizations presents a major market opportunity.
Michael Nizich, a veteran IT professional and director of the Entrepreneurship & Technology Innovation Center at New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury, said there were 1.5 million successful cyberattacks in the United States in 2016, according to the National Security Agency.
In 2016 alone, Yahoo disclosed that more than 1 billion user accounts were hacked three years before; WikiLeaks published documents and emails snatched from the servers of the Democratic National Committee, and hackers sought to sell data from more than 100 million LinkedIn accounts, according to published reports.
Symantec’s 2017 internet Security Threat Report found that as of the end of 2016, one in 131 emails contained malware, the highest rate in five years. In the past eight years, more than 7.1 billion identities were exposed in data breaches, according to the report.
Evan, a sixth grader who plays soccer, practices tae kwon do and strums guitar in his spare time, figures humans will never be able to keep up with the sheer volume of cyberthreats.
That means we will have to enlist smart computers to cope with the growing danger.
“There are a lot of hackers and threats,” he said. “If you have a computer do it for you, it’s not as much work.”
1 in 131
Number of emails that contain malware