University of Waterloo new partner in IBM's Watson cybersecurity project

The artificial intelligence system Watson, which competed on Jeopardy!, will now be tackling cyber crimes and students and staff at the University of Waterloo will help train it.

AI platform that competed on Jeopardy! to learn how to tackle cyber crimes

Jeopardy! champions Ken Jennings, left, and Brad Rutter, right, look on as the IBM computer called Watson beats them to the buzzer to answer a question during a practice round of the quiz show in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., in 2011. (Seth Wenig/Associated Press)

It's elementary, dear Watson: IBM is teaming up with eight universities, including the University of Waterloo, to school its artificial intelligence system, Watson, in cybersecurity.

Students and cybersecurity professionals at three Canadian universities – University of Waterloo, University of Ottawa and University of New Brunswick – will help train a cloud-based version of Watson.

"Watson is learning the nuances of security research findings and discovering patterns and evidence of hidden cyber attacks and threats that could otherwise be missed," IBM Security said in a release Tuesday.

The year-long project, which will start this fall, "is part of a pioneering cognitive security project to address the looming cybersecurity skills gap," the company said.

Watson competed on Jeopardy!

Watson, which competed on Jeopardy! in 2011 and beat champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, can process information much faster than humans.

"By aggressively 'building the brain' of the Watson system over the next 12 months – at a rate of approximately 15,000 documents per month – the next generation of security professionals will no longer be faced with an insurmountable flood of data," the company said.

"Today's security analysts miss over 90 per cent of the security information out there, but, with Watson, this number will shrink and bring greater speed and precision in their day-to-day work to ultimately achieve a leg up over cybercriminals."

'Greater speed and precision'

IBM said that on a daily basis, the average organization deals with more than 200,000 security events, leading to 32 separate potential attacks. It means even the most well-equipped companies are wasting more than 21,000 hours and thousands of dollars a year on events that usually aren't a real threat.

"By leveraging Watson's ability to bring context to staggering amounts of unstructured data, impossible for people alone to process, we will bring new insights, recommendations, and knowledge to security professionals, bringing greater speed and precision to the most advanced cybersecurity analysts, and providing novice analysts with on-the-job training," Marc van Zadelhoff, general manager of IBM Security, said in the release.


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