Cognitive Security – the next big thing in security?

There are good reasons for the move towards “Cognitive Security”. The skill gap in Information Security is amongst the most compelling ones. We just don’t have sufficient skilled people. If we can computers make stepping in here, we might close that gap.

On the other hand, a lot of what we see being labeled “Cognitive Security” is still far away from really advanced, “cognitive” technologies. Marketing tends to exaggeration. On the other hand, there is a growing number of examples of advanced approaches, such as IBM Watson – the latter focusing on filtering the unstructured information and delivering exactly what an Information Security professional needs.

A challenge we must not ignore is the fact that these technologies are based on what is called “machine learning”. The machines must learn before they can do their job. That is not different from humans. An experienced security expert first needs experience. That, on the other hand, leads to two challenges with machines.

One is that machines, if used in Information Security, first must learn about incidents and attacks. With other words: They only can identify attacks after learning. Potentially, that means that there must occur some attacks until the machine can identify and protect against these. There are ways to address this. Machines can share their “knowledge”, better than humans. Thus, the time until they can react on attacks can be massively shortened. Furthermore, the more “cognitive” the machines behave, the better they might detect new attacks by identifying analogies and similarities in patterns, without knowing the specific attack.

On the other hand, training the machines bears the risk that they learn the wrong things. Attackers even might systematically train cognitive security systems in wrong behavior. Botnets might be used for sophisticated “training”, before the concrete attacks occur.

While there is a strong potential for Cognitive Security, we are still in the very early stages of evolution. However, I see a strong potential in these technologies, not in replacing humans but complementing these. Systems can run advanced analysis on masses of data and help finding the few needles in the haystack, the signs of severe attacks. They can help Information Security professionals in making better use of their time, by focusing on the most likely traces of attacks.

Traditional SIEM (Security Information and Event Management) will be replaced by such technologies – an evolution that is already on its way, by applying Big Data and advanced analytical capabilities to the field of Information Security. We at KuppingerCole call this Real Time Security Intelligence (RTSI). RTSI is a first step on the journey towards Cognitive Security. Given the fact that Security on one hand is amongst the most complex challenges to solve and, on the other hand, attacks cause massive damage, this is one of the fields where the evolution in cognitive technologies will take place. It is not as popular as playing Go or chess, but it is a huge market with massive demand. Today, we can observe the first examples of “Cognitive Security”. In 2025, such solutions will be mainstream.


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