Tag Archives: it industry

That’s It. I’ve Had Enough!

Hi Folks!

Meet David, the magnificent masterpiece sculpted by Michelangelo at the start of the 16th century. A photo of his face with that curious furrowed brow featured on our very first anti-cyber-vermin security product at the beginning of the 1990s. Some thought the pic was of me! I still don’t see why; I mean, have you EVER seen my face clean-shaven… and as white as a sheet? )

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The choice of David for the retail box was far from random: we found we were kindred spirits – both very much underdogs. KL was a small young company from nowhere throwing down the gauntlet to global cyber-malice in an established international security market; David was the small young guy throwing down the gauntlet to the giant Goliath.

Throughout the years the boxes have changed, but one thing that hasn’t is our… Davidness.

Fate threw plenty of obstacles in our path that could have easily seen us off, but we persevered, hurdled those obstacles – often alone – and became stronger.

To everyone’s amazement we gave users the best protection in the world and became one of the leaders in the global market. We took it on ourselves to fight patent trolls practically alone, and are still successfully fighting them. (Most others prefer to feed them instead.) And despite the rise in parasites and BS-products, we continue to increase investment in true cybersecurity technologies (including true machine learning) for the protection of users from the cyberthreat avant-garde.

Thus, with just a ‘sling and stones’ we slowly but surely keep on killing Goliath ‘saving the world’: regardless of the geopolitical situation, and from any sort of cyberattacks – regardless of their origin or purpose.

And now, fate has brought us a new challenge. And not only us: this is also a challenge for all computer users and the entire ecosystem of independent developers for Windows.

Read on: David vs. Goliath, ver. 2016…

The Internet of Harmful Things.

In the early 2000s I’d get up on stage and prophesize about the cyber-landscape of the future, much as I still do today. Back then I warned that, one day, your fridge will send spam to your microwave, and together they’d DDoS the coffeemaker. No, really.

The audience would raise eyebrows, chuckle, clap, and sometimes follow up with an article on such ‘mad professor’-type utterances. But overall my ‘Cassandra-ism’ was taken as little more than a joke, since the more pressing cyberthreats of the times were deemed worth worrying about more. So much for the ‘mad professor’…

…Just open today’s papers.

Any house these days – no matter how old – can have plenty of ‘smart’ devices in it. Some have just a few (phones, TVs…), others have loads – including IP-cameras, refrigerators, microwave ovens, coffee makers, thermostats, irons, washing machines, tumble dryers, fitness bracelets, and more. Some houses are even being designed these days with smart devices already included in the specs. And all these smart devices connect to the house’s Wi-Fi to help make up the gigantic, autonomous – and very vulnerable – Internet of Things, whose size already outweighs the Traditional Internet which we’ve known so well since the early 90s.

Connecting everything and the kitchen sink to the Internet is done for a reason, of course. Being able to control all your electronic household kit remotely via your smartphone can be convenient (to some folks:). It’s also rather trendy. However, just how this Internet of Things has developed has meant my Cassandra-ism has become a reality.

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Read on: The phantom ransomware menace…

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Laziness, Cybersecurity, and Machine Learning.

It’s just the way it is: the human being is a lazy creature. If it’s possible not to do something, we don’t do it. However, paradoxically this is a good thing, because laziness is… the engine of progress! What? How so? Well, if a job’s considered too hard or long-winded or complex for humans to do, certain lazy (but conscientious) humans (Homo Laziens?: ) give the job to a machine! In cybersecurity we call it optimization.

Analysis of millions of malicious files and websites every day, developing ‘inoculations’ against future threats, forever improving proactive protection, and solving dozens of other critical tasks – all of that is simply impossible without the use of automation. And machine learning is one of the main concepts used in automation.

Machine learning has been applied in cybersecurity for more than a decade – only without marketing fanfare.

Automation has existed in cybersecurity right from the beginning (of cybersecurity itself). I remember, for example, how back in the early 2000s I wrote the code for a robot to analyze incoming malware samples: the robot put the detected files into the corresponding folder of our growing malware collection based on its (the robot’s) verdict regarding its (the file’s!) characteristics. It was hard to imagine – even back then – that I used to do all that manually!

These days however, simply giving robots precise instructions for tasks you want them to do isn’t enough. Instead, instructions for tasks need to be given imprecisely. Yes, really!

For example, ‘Find the human faces on this photograph’. For this you don’t describe how human faces are picked out and how human faces differ from those of dogs. Instead what you do is show the robot several photographs and add: ‘These things here are humans, this is a human face, and these here are dogs; now work the rest out yourself’! And that, in a nutshell, is the ‘freedom of creativity’ that calls itself machine learning.

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Read on: ML + CS = Love…

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The Artificial ‘Artificial Intelligence’ Bubble and the Future of Cybersecurity.

I think the recent article in the New York Times about the boom in ‘artificial intelligence’ in Silicon Valley made many people think hard about the future of cybersecurity – both the near and distant future.

I reckon questions like these will have been pondered on:

  • Where’s the maniacal preoccupation with ‘AI’, which now only exists in the fantasies of futurologists going to lead to?
  • How many more billions will investors put into ventures which, at best, will ‘invent’ what was invented decades ago, at worst – will turn out to be nothing more than inflated marketing… dummies?
  • What are the real opportunities for the development of machine learning cybersecurity technologies?
  • And what will be the role of humans experts in this brave new world?

Sometimes when I hang around with A.I. enthusiasts here in the valley, I feel like an atheist at a convention of evangelicals.

Jerry Kaplan, computer scientist, author, futurist and serial entrepreneur (inc. co-founder of Symantec)

What’s going on now in the field of ‘AI’ resembles a soap bubble. And we all know what happens to soap bubbles eventually if they keep getting blown up by the circus clowns (no pun intended!): they burst.

Now, of course, without bold steps and risky investments a fantastical future will never become a reality. But the problem today is that along with this wave of widespread enthusiasm for ‘AI’ (remember, AI today doesn’t exist; thus the inverted commas), startup-shell-companies have started to appear.

A few start-ups? What’s the big deal, you might ask.

The big deal is that these shell-startups are attracting not millions but billions of dollars in investment – by riding the new wave of euphoria surrounding ‘AI’ machine learning. Thing is, machine learning has been around for decades: it was first defined in 1959, got going in the 70s, flourished in the 90s, and is still flourishing! Fast forward to today and this ‘new’ technology is re-termed ‘artificial intelligence’; it adopts an aura of cutting-edge science; it gets to have the glossiest brochures; it gets to have the most glamorously sophisticated marketing campaigns. And all of that is aimed at the ever-present human weakness for belief in miracles – and in conspiracy theories about so-called ‘traditional’ technologies. And sadly, the cybersecurity field hasn’t escaped this new ‘AI’ bubble…

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Read on: Too much AI will kill you…

Uh-oh Cyber-News: The Future’s Arrived, and Malware Back from the Dead.

As always for this ‘column‘, I’ll be giving you a round-up of some of the most eek recent items of cybersecurity news, which might not have made the headlines but which are no less eek for that. And as usual, it’s all mostly bad news. There are still a few reasons to be optimistic though – but only a few. Eek!

Uh-oh Cyber-News Item No. 1: The Future’s Arrived.

news-1A screenshot from Blade Runner

Many authors like to fantasize about how things will be in the future. Often, science fiction writers come up with deep philosophical reflections upon man and his place in the Universe. There’s Russia’s Strugatsky brothers, there’s Philip K. Dick, and there’s Arthur C. Clarke (plus his ‘translator’ to the silver screen Stanley Kubrick), for example. And very often such deep philosophical reflection is rather bleak and scary.

Other times, the reflection is a little less deep and philosophical, but no less likely to one day lead to reality – in fact, oftentimes more so. This is where I make appearances!…

So. Back in the first decade of this century, during my presentations your humble servant liked to tell fun ‘scare’ stories about what could happen in the future. Example: a coffeemaker launches a DDoS attack on the fridge, while the microwave works out the factory PINs of the juicer so it can then show text-adverts on its digital display.

Fast forward less than a decade and such ‘sci-fi’ is coming true…

Read on: Computer worms rising from the dead…

Artificial Intelligence: Artificial Truth – Here and Now.

Artificial intelligence… Two words which together conjure up so much wonder and awe in the imagination of programmers, sci-fi fans and perhaps just about anyone with an interest in the fate of the world!

Thanks to man’s best friend the dog R2-D2, the evil Skynet, the fantastical 2001: A Space Odyssey, post-apocalyptical androids dreaming of electric sheep, and maybe also Gary Numan, everyone is pretty well familiar with the concept of artificial intelligence (AI). Yep, books, the big screen, comics, er… mashed potato advertisements – AI is in all of them in a big way. It also features heavily in the marketing materials of recently-appearing and exceptionally-ambitious cybersecurity companies. In fact, there’s probably only one place today where you can’t find it. Thing is, that single place happens to cover practically everything that makes up this world and all the life in it: the not-so-insignificant sphere called ‘real everyday life‘.

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It’s common knowledge that since the days of Alan Turing and Norbert Wiener (that is, around the mid-20th century) computers have come on in leaps and bounds. They learned how (rather, they were taught how) to play chess – and better than humans. They fly planes, now also cars on the roads. They write newspaper articles, catch malware and do tons of other useful – and often not so useful – things. They pass the Turing test to prove possession of intelligent behavior equivalent to a human. However, a chatterbot simulating a 13-year-old capable of nothing else – that is just an algorithm plus a collection of libraries. It is not artificial intelligence. Not convinced? Then I advise you simply look up the definition of AI, then that of an algorithm, and then look at the differences between the two. It’s not rocket computer science.

We are currently witnessing yet another wave of interest in AI across the world. Which number this wave is I’ve lost track of…

Read on: People that don’t know what they’re talking about…

Darwinism in IT Security – Pt. 2: Inoculation from BS.

Hi folks!

As promised, herewith, more on the connection between evolution theory and how protection against cyberthreats develops.

To date, what precisely brings about mutations of living organisms is unknown. Some of the more unconventional experts reckon it’s the work of viruses, which intentionally rearrange genes (yep, there’s who really rules the world!). But whatever the case may be, similar mutation processes also occur in IT Security – sometimes with the help of viruses too.

The market is tired of prophets; these days monetizing ‘panaceas’ requires a lot more investment and marketing efforts

In line with the best traditions of the principle of the struggle for existence, security technologies evolve over time: new categories of products appear, others become extinct, while some products merge with others. Regarding the latter for example, integrity checkers were a major breakthrough in the mid-90s, but nowadays they’re a minor part of endpoint solutions. New market segments and niches appear (for example, Anti-APT) to complement the existing arsenals of protective technologies – this being a normal process of positive symbiosis for good. But all the while nasty parasites crawl out of the woodwork to warm themselves in the sun. C’est la vie – as it’s always been, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

In the struggle for market share in IT Security there regularly appear prophets prophesizing a sudden end to ‘traditional’ technologies and – by happy chance – simultaneous (‘just in time!’) invention of a bullshit product revolutionary panacea (with generous discounts for the first five customers).

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But this isn’t something new: any of you remember anti-spyware? In the early 2000s a huge bubble of products to get rid of spyware grew up from nothing. Much BS was fired the consumer’s way about the inability of ‘traditional antivirus’ to cope with this particular problem, but right from the beginning it was all just made up.

But the market has grown used to and tired of such prophets, and these days monetizing ‘panaceas’ requires a lot more investment and snake oil marketing efforts.

Read on: David and Don Draper Against Goliath…

Darwinism in IT Security: Adapt or Die.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives but the most adaptable to change.”
– Charles Darwin

It’s been a while since I’ve opined on these here cyber-pages on my favorite topic – the future of IT Security, so here’s making up for that. Get ready for a lot of words – hopefully none too extraneous – on the latest Infosec tech, market and tendencies, with a side dish of assorted facts and reflections. Popcorn at the ready – off we go…

I’ll be writing here about ideal IT Security and how the security industry is evolving towards it (and what’s happening along that evolutionary road towards it), and how all that can be explained with the help of Mr. Darwin’s theory of evolution. How natural selection leads certain species to dominate, while others fall by the wayside – left for the paleontologists in years to come. Oh, and what is symbiosis, and what are parasites.

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I’ll start with some definitions…

Almost-Perfection in an Imperfect World.

Perfect protection – 100% security – is impossible. The IT Security industry can and should of course aim for perfection, in the process creating the best-protected systems possible, but each inching nearer 100% costs exponentially more – so much more that the cost of protection winds up being greater than the cost of potential damage from the harshest of scenarios of a successful attack.

Ideal protection is that where the cost of a successful attack is greater than the gain

Accordingly, it’s logical to give the following definition of realistic (attainable) ideal protection (from the viewpoint of potential victims): Ideal protection is that where the cost to hack our system is greater than the cost of the potential damage that could be caused. Or, looking at it from the other side of the barricades: Ideal protection is that where the cost of a successful attack is greater than the gain attackers would receive.

Of course, there’ll be times when how much an attack may cost doesn’t matter to the attackers; for example, to state-backed cyberwar-mongers. But that doesn’t mean we just give up.

So how do we develop a security system that provides realistic (attainable) ideal (maximum) protection?

Read on: The survival of IT’s fittest…

Mobile OS market: 2015

A long, long time ago – in December 2010 – I had a bet with a friend about the future of the smartphone market.

Read that again: in December 2010. That is, exactly five years ago!

Back then, the ‘real’ smartphone segment was dominated by Apple, while green gremlin Android was only getting a peak in. My mate assured me that things would mostly stay that way, with Google-Android never being able to get anywhere near iOS. But I reckoned that things would be just the opposite in five years’ time, with the market being divvied up so:

80% – Android;
10% – iOS;
10% – all other mobile OS.

My reasoning was displayed here half a decade ago. Have a look! There’s only about one and a half pages of my text there.

Soooo, five years later……. And it looks like……. I got it right!

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PS. No one tried to answer the question of my previous post? I repeat: how can you distinguish day from night at the North or South Pole when the season of Northern Lights (or ‘Southern Lights’) is in full swing, i.e., when night is as light as day?

For those who come up with the quickest, wittiest and most accurate answers – prizes await! Geeee. All these prizes and presents. It’s almost as if it’s nearly Christmastime :).

The abracadabra of anonymous sources.

Who killed JFK?

Who’s controlling the Bermuda Triangle?

What’s the Freemasons’ objective?

Easy! For it turns out that answers to these questions couldn’t be more straightforward. All you have to do is add: ‘according to information from anonymous sources‘, and voila! — there’s your answer — to any question, about anything, or anyone. And the answers are all the more credible – not because of their… credibility – but because of the level of prestige commonly ascribed to the particular media outlet that broke the story.

Just recently, Reuters got a ‘world exclusive’ of jaw-dropping proportions in the antivirus world. The article, filled with sensational – false – allegations, claims Kaspersky Lab (KL), creates very specific, targeted malware, and distributes it anonymously to other anti-malware competitors, with the sole purpose of causing serious trouble for them and harming their market share. Oh yes. But they forgot to add that we conjure all this up during steamy banya sessions, after parking the bears we ride outside.

The Reuters story is based on information provided by anonymous former KL employees. And the accusations are complete nonsense, pure and simple.

Disgruntled ex-employees often say nasty things about their former employers, but in this case, the lies are just ludicrous. Maybe these sources managed to impress the journalist, but in my view publishing such an ‘exclusive’ – WITHOUT A SHRED OF EVIDENCE – is not what I understand to be good journalism. I’m just curious to see what these ‘ex-employees’ tell the media next time about us, and who might believe their BS.

The reality is that the Reuters story is a conflation of a number of facts with a generous amount of pure fiction.

In 2012-2013, the anti-malware industry suffered badly because of serious problems with false positives. And unfortunately, we were among the companies badly affected. It turned out to be a coordinated attack on the industry: someone was spreading legitimate software laced with malicious code targeting specifically the antivirus engines of many companies, including KL. It remains a mystery who staged the attack, but now I’m being told it was me! I sure didn’t see that one coming, and am totally surprised by this baseless accusation!

Here’s how it happened: in November 2012 our products produced false positives on several files that were in fact legitimate. These were the Steam client, Mail.ru game center, and QQ client. An internal investigation showed that these incidents occurred as the result of a coordinated attack by an unknown third party.

For several months prior to the incidents, through intra-industry information-exchange channels such as the VirusTotal website, our anti-malware research lab repeatedly received numerous slightly modified legitimate files of Steam, Mail.ru and QQ. The creator(s) of these files added pieces of malicious code to them.

Later we came to the conclusion that the attackers might have had prior knowledge of how different companies’ detection algorithms work and injected the malicious code precisely in a place where auto systems would search for it.

These newly received modified files were evaluated as malicious and stored in our databases. In total, we received several dozen legitimate files containing malicious code.

False positives started to appear once the legitimate owners of the files released updated versions of their software. The system compared the files to the malware database – which contained very similar files – and deemed the legitimate files malicious. After that, we upgraded our detection algorithms to avoid such detections.

Meanwhile the attacks continued through 2013 and we continued to receive modified legitimate files. We also became aware that our company was not the only one targeted by this attack: other industry players received these files as well and mistakenly detected them.

In 2013 there was a closed-door meeting among leading cybersecurity and other software industry players that also suffered from the attack – as well as vendors that were not affected by the problem but were aware of it. During that meeting the participants exchanged information about the incidents, tried to figure out the reasons behind them, and worked on an action plan. Unfortunately no breakthrough occurred, though some interesting theories regarding attribution were expressed. In particular, the participants of the meeting considered that some other AV vendor could be behind the attack, or that the attack was an attempt by an unknown but powerful malicious actor to adjust its malware in order to avoid detection by key AV products.

Accusations such as these are nothing new. As far back as the late nineties I’d take with me to press conferences a placard with the word ‘No!’ on it. It saved me so much time. I’d just point to it when every third question was: “Do you write viruses yourselves, for your product to then ‘cure’ the infections?” Oh yeah. Sure. And still today I get asked the same all the time. Do they really think an 18+ year-old business built 100% on trust would be doing such things?

It seems some folks just prefer to presume guilt until innocence is proven. I guess there’ll always be folks like that. C’est la vie. But I really do hope that people will see through these anonymous, silly and groundless accusations… What I can say for sure is that we’ll continue working very closely with the industry to make the digital world safer, and that our commitment and resolve to expose cyberthreats regardless of their source or origin won’t waiver.

.@kaspersky rubbishes claims they poisoned competitors with false positivesTweet