Three Points on Artificial Intelligence and Cyber-Security for 2017

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Although I have been known for longer posts, I would like to offer only three things to watch out for related to artificial intelligence and cyber-security for 2017, followed by sharing two videos.

1) Cyber attackers have long used machine learning and automation techniques to streamline their operations and may soon use full-blown artificial intelligence to do it. Botnets will become self-healing and will be able to detect when they are being discovered and can re-route in response. The botnet and cyber crime business will grow and become more organized. Showdan, the world’s first search engine for internet connected devices, will be used to target companies and individuals negatively. Yet it can also be used for safety and compliance monitoring, most likely when its feed into another analytical tool.

How to Hack with Showdan (For Educational Purposes Only):

2) It won’t be long until A.I. learns the patterns of mutating viruses and then has the ability to predict and/or stop them in their tracks. This is dependent on the most up to date virus definitions, and corresponding algorithms. How a Zero Day is made is heavily a math problem applied to a certain context and operating system. There should be a math formula to predict the next most likely Zero Day exploit – A.I. could provide this. It’s a matter of calculating all possible code various and code add on variations. It’s a lot more advanced than a Rubix Cube.
975f495fafd8c494591892412ecf87e33) A.I. has the potential to close the gap between the lesser developed world and the developed world. The technology behind A.I. is not limited to big companies like IBM or Microsoft for the long term. We may be surprised with tech start-ups out of the lesser developed world who are very creative. Lack of fiber optic cable connectivity has forced many lesser developed nations to rely heavily on cell tower smartphone based internet communications. This has inspired a mobile app growth wave in parts of Africa as described here; “the use of smartphones and tablets within the country has led to a mobile revolution in Nigeria. Essentially, people now tend to seek mobile solutions more often and thus, enhance the growth of the mobile app development industry” (Top 4 Mobile App development companies in Nigeria, IT News Africa, 2015). A.I. will likely close the gap between these two sectors though not drastically change it. If lesser developed countries can build their own mobile apps and outsource things to A.I.; they could become more independent from the economic constraints of the developed world.

The below video highlights some of the complications around these points. It is from a conference hosted by the ICIT on April 25, 2016, and I did not attend this. In the video, Donna Dodson (Associate Director, Chief Cybersecurity Advisor and Director, NIST), Mark Kneidinger (Director, Federal Network Resiliency, DHS), Malcolm Harkins (ICIT Fellow – Cylance) and Stan Wisseman (ICIT Fellow – HPE) discuss related concepts and share realistic examples of how these technologies are reshaping the cyber-security landscape.

ICIT Forum 2016: Artificial Intelligence Enabling Next-Generation Cybersecurity

If you want to contact me to discuss these concepts click here.

Five Unique Tech Trends in 2016 and Implications for 2017

1) Russian Hacking in U.S. Elections – critical infrastructure implications:
For more than ten years candidates and advocacy groups have used internet marketing hacks to steal their opponent’s websites, redirect internet traffic, or increase negative search results on them by manipulating search engine algorithms. For example, former GOP Presidential candidate Carly Fiorina failed to register carlyfiorina.org and thus had an opposition group use it as negative publicity against her, but she has since acquired the site. Yet 2016 proved to be a turning point in political hacking because of the level and sophistication and sustained effectiveness. The Washington Post reported, “Russian government hackers were able to penetrate DNC servers, compromising opposition files, chats, and emails on republican nominee Donald Trump (Eliza Collins, 12/30/16, USA Today). With this information, Russian intelligence agents masqueraded as third parties to create very believable spear phishing campaigns. These fake emails worked to trick victims into typing in their usernames and passwords after which Russian agents moved further into their networks, undetected at the time.

On 12/29/16, in a first of its kind move, the Obama Administration released a joint FBI and DHS report (JAR-16-20296: GRIZZLY STEPPE – Russian Malicious – US-Cert) on the technicalities of the hack and sanctioned the GRU and the FSB (Russian intelligence agencies) and key companies they contracted with (Katie Bo Williams, 12/29/16, The Hill). The following diagrams (Fig. 1-a and 1-b) show there were two main hacking groups and that they used mostly classic hacking tactics that were clearly preventable. APT29 hides via encrypted communication and speeds up commands via PowerShell code automation, applied to multiple operating systems. Thus they must have been observing and studying/testing for a while to get this right as its complex across phones, tablets, and PCs. At the same time, APT28 was using a private tunnel (like a VPN) to install and remotely run applications – key loggers designed to steal information and credentials.

Russian DNC Hack Diagram – Fig. 1 – a: (JAR-16-20296: GRIZZLY STEPPE – Russian Malicious – US-Cert).
Russian Hack Part 3.png
All this started as far back as the summer of 2015, so the full penetration went undiscovered for more than a year. In that time, it has been alleged that the hackers were releasing embarrassing info to manufacture fake negative news against Hillary Clinton. In one instance the release of this info resulted in the resignation of the on DNC Chair, Florida Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Yet the hack is not fully partisan because many sources confirmed that, Republican House members, thought leaders and non-profits to the GOP, were also hacked (Jeremy Diamond, 12/16/16, CNN).

Russian DNC Hack Diagram – Fig. 1 – b: (JAR-16-20296: GRIZZLY STEPPE – Russian Malicious – US-Cert).
Russian Hack Part 2.png

On 12/30/16 the Obama Administration took the strong action of expelling thirty-five Russian diplomats in response to the hack. Shortly thereafter they enacted OFAC (Office of Foreign Asset Control) sanctions against Russian business entities associated with these people. They left the country under close U.S. escort on 01/01/17 as they arrived at an airport to depart on a private Russian plane sent by president Putin.

Alleged Hacker and Russian Spy, Alisa Shevchenko – Fig. 3:
1483128352073-cachedInterestingly, one of the people expelled, Alisa Shevchenko, was praised a year before by the United States which does not speak well for U.S. intelligence agencies. Specifically, The Department of Homeland Security said “Alisa Shevchenko had helped prevent cyber crime under a program for information sharing between the public and private sector. Ms. Shevchenko was also said to have assisted a French company, Schneider Electric, in identifying vulnerabilities in its software” (Andrew E Kramer, New York Times, 12/31/16). However, we think she may have been a Russian spy all along and could have been inside key U.S. systems at that time but this unconfirmed. Her company, Zora Security, has been a key supplier to the Russian Military’s Main Intelligence Directorate, or G.R.U. In her recent Twitter posts she indicates that she is indifferent to being discovered by the U.S. intelligence agencies. This is likely because she is a close pawn of Putin’s who did a fairly good job going undetected as long as she did. More intel is likely to come out substantiating this.

At present, the election systems aren’t considered among the sixteen U.S. critical infrastructures and thus they have no federal protection. This is because current law defines the administration of elections as in the hand of each state and these states do not want federal involvement into their election systems out of fear of political persecution. We can understand this (especially Texas) but think some compromise could be accorded if a state election system was targeted by a foreign government, thus making it a national interest. The federal government is less involved in the day to day activities and security of the sixteen critical infrastructures because 80% of them are owned by private enterprises. However, when Sony got hacked in 2014 it became a national issue a few days later and then the Federal government helped out, but afterward, Sony quickly wanted to avoid contact with them. This is because, although well intentioned and large, the federal government is not as good at most I.T. security as the private sector is. Yet the case of multiple state election systems is unique because they are used only for elections and then are put in storage. Ultimately each states voting data rolls up to the federal level and most of this supply chain is at risk to hacking and manipulation. Thus, the maintenance and updates of these systems and the systems used by dispersed political parties for campaigns need to be improved. This may require some sort of hybrid-critical infrastructure protection, increased private sector partnership, or just more dollars spent by the state election bodies and political parties. Why are commercial facilities and their systems more important than the systems that track election activity and results in a country that fought several wars to stay democratic? By including the election process and systems as a critical infrastructure or hybrid-critical infrastructure, researchers and entrepreneurs will be inspired to improve the process, all the while sustaining or increasing privacy which is a must for a nation as diverse as the United States. More news outlets, advocacy groups, consultants, and academics need to debate this publicly!

2) Tesla and the Growth of the Electric car – decline of the gasoline based car: 
2016 was a profound year of announcements when it comes to the market for electric cars. Many car manufacturers have been playing catch up with Tesla for a few years now. That being said, several companies have produced versions of their own electric car. But there are very few that have produced an electric car designed from the ground up. The Nissan Leaf and BMW i3 were two of those, and as of November 2016 Chevrolet started manufacturing its Bolt EV. Mercedes also announced that it will have several different types of electric vehicles soon. This includes their urban electric-powered straight truck (Fig. 3) which has self-driving capabilities. This would allow inter-city delivery on an EV platform.

Mercedes Electric Self-Driving Truck Prototype – Fig. 3:

mercades-self-driving-truckSimply put, the market is starting to catch up to Tesla. 2017, we think will be the year that makes or breaks Tesla. If Tesla can ramp up production like it plans to, it will continue to maintain market share. By 2018, it has audacious production goals of a half million. With just about every major automotive company producing plans for electric vehicles, competition for this segment will start to get really competitive.

3) Self-Driving Cars – personal and commercial:
Google has been developing a self-driving car for a few years now, but it has been slow to fully develop and bring them to market. In fact, a few of Google’s employees left to start their own company for self-driving trucks. That company, Otto, was recently sold to Uber for $680 million (Mark Harris, Business Insider – Back Channel, 12/03/16). Uber has also been working on self-driving cars with its Ford Fusion line. Now, these cars still have people behind the wheel just in case of an emergency, but it’s the next step in fully rolling out an autonomous fleet of vehicles. Uber gave their fleet of Volvo XC-90s a try for only a week in San Francisco but picked up and moved on to Arizona to continue testing. This was because they didn’t want to comply with California DMV requirements to file paperwork and pay a registration fee. Otto, on the other hand, also made their first delivery of Budweiser beer in Colorado (Fig. 4).  

Otto Self-Driving Budweiser Delivery Video – Fig. 4:

This is dawning the start of Uber Freight where shippers can ship through an Uber App for their truckloads. C.H. Robinson and Amazon are both developing apps like this. We think before cars get the green light to drive in inner-cities, self-driving semis will get the regulatory green light, firstly on interstates. This is because commercial vehicles cost a lot more, are bigger, serve thousands of customers per year, thus the investment in self-driving technology is a justified priority in spite of any risk.  Additionally, commercial shipping is automated in most parts of the supply chain and this is a precursor for self-driving trucks. The NHTSA did publish guidelines on self-driving cars and their testing in September (link here). We think 2017 will be the year of testing self-driving vehicles and in 2018 it will start to become a mass market idea.

4) Surveillance via Smart Phones – privacy implications:
Smartphones are small supercomputers that house more personal info on their users and families than any other device in modern history. From texts, PHI, fingerprint scans, downloaded documents, contact lists, photos, geolocation tags, the use of many cloud databases – both upload and download, and apps that take away some of our privacy – via partial and full consent. A smart phone is more advanced than any gadget dreamed up by 007 and the need for privacy on it is just as important.

2016 proved to be a turning point in the privacy vs. government surveillance debate. It intensified after the mass shooting in San Bernardino, CA, which happened at the end of 2015, killing 14 people. Then in 2016 the government sued Apple to get them to build a backdoor into the perpetrators iPhone to which Apple strongly objected. The government eventually broke into them phone shortly thereafter with the help of Israeli tech contracts. Keep in mind that ever since Edward Snowden leaked NSA documents in 2013 about the government’s overreach into technology companies, to get them to build back doors, it has become more politically acceptable to resist such demands. Congress has made very minor surveillance rollbacks, mostly related to phone metadata but much more work needs to be done (Ellen Nakashima, The Washington Post, 11/27/15).

Andriod phones have also suffered hacks and backdoors.  A source described it this way, “security experts say they have discovered secret ‘backdoor’ software in some Android phones that sends users’ personal data to China. Kryptowire, the security firm that discovered the vulnerability, confirmed this information on its website on Tuesday. The firm wrote that certain Android devices contain pre-installed software that collects and sends personal data, such as texts and geographical location, to an unauthorized third-party” (New York Times, 11/15/16).  This is a clear blow to android privacy and will require costly R&D by Google.  With the growth of third party phone applications these risks will continue to increase and get more complicated.

Illustration of Apple vs. The FBI – Fig. 5:
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Although the government argues that back doors make the nation safer, this makes no logical sense and there are no real world case studies to support it. First of all, the fact that the government needs to rely on the private sector for such backdoors and tech consulting proves that the private sector is where technology innovation comes from and that supports the concept of intense free competition.

The U.S. intelligence agencies would not be much better than a “drunken inspector gadget” without third-party consultants and tech firms. Key private sector innovation in the military industrial complex has helped this nation win wars and secure freedom for all – way back to the founding of the Union. This includes stealth fighter technologies, radar technologies, canons, and it does not require government overreach or back doors. The government is a paying customer of the best tech products and has always been.  

Yet when the same consultants and tech firms serve regular customers, like Apple with the iPhone, those customers have a reasonable expectation of privacy and quality. This should not diminish merely because the government can’t solve a crime or problem quickly. Apple CEO Tim Cook described the government’s request this way, “it’s the software equivalent of cancer. He said he was prepared to take the fight all the way to the Supreme Court. This would be bad for America, he said. It would also set a precedent that I believe many people in America would be offended by” (Enjoli Francis, ABC News, 02/24/16). There are far more security benefits in keeping private technology data private. This includes privacy after domestic breakups, privacy from cyber-stalking, privacy from annoying marketing, privacy from political persecution and harassment. Also, Government agencies can use these same private technologies to conduct military and intelligence operations without worrying about being hacked by opposing governments or terrorists.

In 2017 we think technology companies will increase the security of their products, and companies like Apple and Google are already in the process of doing this. In Apple’s case, they have spent millions to hire encryption legend Jon Callas, who invented PGP encryption, to redesign the security of their products (Reuters, 05/24/16). We think most company shareholders, investors, customers, and finance people now see the additional cost to build in great security as required.  To customers, security on a product is worth a price premium and a globally competitive company must have secure products.

We also think policy makers will have to do more to accommodate the privacy concerns of citizens, perhaps partly like the E.U. has done. We also think 2017 will further debunk the connection between backdoor system hacks and terrorism prevention. Clearly, monitoring the entire free world’s metadata is a violation of democratic norms, and it waters down security greatly because it can easily be manipulated for every imaginable bad reason. Most likely, setting people up, and government leaders throughout all history like to find people to blame for their problems/misdeeds. Yet behavioral profiling and good traditional police and intelligence work in conjunction with advanced sustained diplomatic dialogue with a range of diverse groups, friends and enemies alike, should produce better intelligence for more specific actionable results. The intelligence community has thousands of tech tools to use to secure the nation, mostly private sector based, so they don’t need to monitor all metadata.

5) Using Drones for Last Mile Deliveries – suited for rural and high traffic areas:

Amazon Prime Drone via Prime air – Fig. 6:
imagesAmazon made its first test delivery by a drone in the U.K. in 2016. This will continue to be developed as Amazon continues to test and tweak its system for making deliveries by drone. In fact, this is one of many programs where Amazon is developing its systems in “last mile” delivery. They also currently have their own fleet of vans to deliver and they use their Flex program of drivers to pick up and deliver packages. They also recently filed a patent for “floating warehouses” where these would have inventory in an airship that drones could pick up products and then deliver them, for example to a sporting event (Kate Abbey-Lambertz, 12/30/16, Huffington Post). Realistic but far out innovation like this will continue to challenge UPS and FedEx to provide a better customer experience. Drone delivery is just one idea. The benefit or idea behind drone delivery is that it could deliver to customers within a half hour. This would drastically improve the time to deliver to its customers. Currently, with Prime Now, you can get one-hour and two-hour delivery in certain areas.  

We think Amazon will continue to develop its drone delivery in 2017 by testing it in many countries across the world. The FAA in the U.S. has been one roadblock to Amazon testing in the United States. This is just one agency that is figuring out how to regulate this new technology as it tries to prevent small planes and traffic from colliding with drones. Amazon’s competitors are watching and we’ll see how far they get in 2017.

jeremy-swensonmike-cassem
Jeremy Swenson and Mike Cassem are two seasoned, part-time, Intel certified, retail technology marketing and training representatives on assignment at Best Buy for clients including Intel, H.P., Trend Micro, Adobe, and others – presently on sabbatical. They also spent five years crafting their public speaking and writing skills in Toastmasters International. For full-time work, Swenson doubles as a Sr. business analyst, process improvement and project management consultant. While Cassem doubles as a marketer and sales logistics analysis consultant. Tweet to them @jer_Swenson and @micassem.

Microsoft HoloLens, Mobile vs. Good Web-Design, and Security Needs Innovation Not Gov’t.

Microsoft HoloLens1) We knew there would come another well-positioned company who makes a pair of smart glasses like Google Glass and that it will derive more competition and innovation. Microsoft raised their hand right away with their HoloLens glasses which are hologram based, slightly “gamified”, and seemingly better than Google Glass largely because they tied it in with known Windows functionality (broader offerings). See a video of this cool new technology here:

2) It is a fact that on average people now access more of their e-mail via mobile devices more often than on a traditional computer. This has forced websites, news makers, and companies to design their web offerings in a mobile compatible design so when you go to the web on a computer the sites are often overly mobile in their design aspects and sometimes look goofy and the buttons and frames are too big. CNN.com is a good example of a web-site that went too far with their mobile design so if you access it from a normal computer it looks more like a kids play web-site with big buttons and frames optimized for touch with little info presented. Yet their prior design was better especially if you want to read more on one screen view.

(Old vs. New CNN.com, respectively)
Old and New CNN WebsiteThere is no doubt that mobile will continue to grow and will be used on smaller devices like watches, ear buds, pacemakers, and contact lenses. Web design has shifted so fast to mobile that sometimes good web design and user experience is forgotten about for non-mobile users or business users who on average spend much more time on those same sites than mobile users. Thus a better balance of the two design types is needed, and an app is a separate project all together yet still needed. I also think Microsoft will take more mobile market share away from Android and Apple since they have learned a lot from their Windows 8 release and are quickly working to release Windows 10 as a better touch based mobility optimized O.S. that many are excited to try.

3) There will be more data breaches but many of them will be supported by the Western Governments who in effect devalue security standards by corroborating with large companies to quarry vast amounts of metadata all in the name of security. Sadly we know Governments have abused this power in the past and will continue to do so thus the private sector needs to collaborate and inspire innovation in this space for better security and transparency so the masses may have security and corrupt Governments can be exposed.

Equation group victims map

As it stands now hackers are a few steps ahead of antivirus makers and they are constantly tweaking their viruses so they can’t be detected. The newest types of viruses are suspected to be created by the Equation Group, one of the most sophisticated hacking groups ever known. These new viruses hide in your hard drives firmware and are undetectable. Antivirus maker Kaspersky commented on this in their Q&A doc on the Equation Group by stating, “We were able to recover two HDD firmware reprogramming modules from the EQUATIONDRUG and GRAYFISH platforms. The EQUATIONDRUG HDD firmware reprogramming module has version 3.0.1 while the GRAYFISH reprogramming module has version 4.2.0. These were compiled in 2010 and 2013, respectively, if we are to trust the PE timestamps” (http://25zbkz3k00wn2tp5092n6di7b5k.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/files/2015/02/Equation_group_questions_and_answers.pdf).

Kaspersky went on to further speculate that there were clues that the U.S. N.S.A. was involved in the latest hard drive firmware virus and even suggested they had the cooperation of major hard drive makers like Western Digital, Seagate, Samsung, and Toshiba in order to get the code needed to write the virus. Any reasonable technologist would likely agree with this. Yet this decreases innovation and free competition and you know big money likely traded hands to make these deals happen. How can a big company now trust paying a technology company for security or services when they are just going to give it away to supposed governments here or elsewhere? More importantly, if one government has the ability to get into a tech companies data, then other more ill-intentioned governments and organizations can quickly learn how to do that as well and that is the real threat.

If you want to hire me to speak at your next event or consult for your company on these and related topics please contact me.