Intel Security recently released an in-depth survey of the cybersecurity industry, looking at causal agents of the low availability of people with training and professional accreditation in computer security. The global report titled “Hacking the Skills Shortage” concludes: “The cybersecurity workforce shortfall remains a critical vulnerability for companies and nations”.

Most respondents to the survey considered the ‘cybersecurity skills gap’ as having a negative effect on their company, three quarters felt that government were not investing appropriately to develop cybersecurity talent and a whopping 82% reported that they can’t get the cybersecurity skills they need.

Only one in five believed current cybersecurity legislation in their country is sufficient. Over half thought current legislation could be improved and a quarter felt current regulation could be significantly enhanced.

From an education viewpoint, the study concluded that colleges are not preparing their students well for a career in cybersecurity. It suggested that there should be a relaxation of the requirement for a graduate degree for cybersecurity positions and that greater stock should be placed on professional certifications. Cybersecurity appreciation should start at an earlier age and we need to move with the times, targeting a more diverse multicultural and mixed gender clientele.

But what does it mean for companies needing assistance with their cybersecurity requirements now? How should we respond to a known deficiency in available expertise? Given that companies are increasing relying on consultants and analysts there is a need to be preparing our staff and suppliers to step into the gap and assist us in identifying requirements, analysing potential solutions and developing a roadmap to follow so that we can maintain our computer security, minimise data loss and protect our intellectual property.

There’s potentially another option to fill the cybersecurity expertise gap in the future – Cognitive Security.

The term Cognitive Security refers to an increasingly important technology that combines self-learning systems with artificial intelligence to be able to look for patterns and identify situations that meet predefined conditions, which can be used to indicate network compromise activity and provide expert advice for diagnostic activity.

While artificial intelligence has had a chequered past it is likely to significantly impact society over the next decade. It’s started to being deployed in big data analysis to enable us to identify trends and understand consumer behaviour, it provides the ability to automate promotional activity and it enables us to better meet customer expectations even as marketing budgets are constrained. In the cybersecurity space it can be used to identify potential nefarious activity and to make decisions on how to respond to events. Increasingly, automated data analysis allows us to detect network compromise and artificial intelligence provides assistance in taking remedial action.

A number of large research organisations are at the forefront of Cognitive Computing. IBM is very active via the Watson initiative which is pioneering data mining, pattern recognition and natural language processing. IBM Watson for CyberSecurity, the one solution that is already announced, focuses on collecting unstructured information and providing the required information to the Information Security professionals, giving them the background information they need, without searching for it. Google DeepMind demonstrated approaching Singularity with AlphaGo beating a GO grand master earlier this year. Microsoft is also heavily involved in the sector with the release of their first set of Cognitive Services, in effect APIs for facial recognition, facial tracking, speech recognition, spell checking and smile prediction software.

So what does this have to do with security on our company’s network?

We’re seeing the beginning of cognitive security in the threat analytics that are now rapidly developing with innovative solutions that monitor corporate networks and then ‘learn’ what normal network traffic looks like. Nefarious activity can be detected via anomalies in network traffic. If an account that normally accesses a departmental subnet for access to work applications suddenly attempts to access another server, not part of their normal activity, threat analytics will identify such events and will act in accordance with the established policy, either issuing a notification for follow-up or disabling the account pending investigation. Many suppliers also maintain, or subscribe to, community threat signature services that identify known attack vectors and can automatically alert on their occurrence on the network being monitored. These systems can also provide triage services to assist in determining remedial action and forensic analysis to aid in developing preventative maintenance processes.

While there’s still a long way to go, the technology holds significant benefit. If we extrapolate the findings of the Intel survey to our own situations, it is unlikely that we will be able to fill the need for human cybersecurity experts, it is therefore prudent to track developments in cognitive security as it applies to our network monitoring and incident response requirements.

While it must not be our only approach to network protection and data loss prevention it holds significant potential to be a major component of our corporate security arsenal in the future.