With the coming of the Chinese New Year beginning on January 22, we leave the fearsome Year of the Tiger and scurry into the Year of the Rabbit. In the Chinese zodiac, the Tiger is symbolic of fierce competition and unpredictability, while the Rabbit is associated with traits such as kindness and luck.
In one legend, the Rabbit was racing the other animals of the Chinese Zodiac. They all had to cross a wide river, and the order of finishing would become the order of the animals in the Zodiac calendar. But the Rabbit became exhausted partway across. Just when he thought he couldn’t go on, good fortune intervened: a log floated by and the Rabbit climbed atop it. Then the generous Dragon blew a strong wind that carried the Rabbit the rest of the way.
In that spirit, here are my suggestions of trends that may help you across the river of 2023!
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
Decades of wishful speculation about the potential of artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) has come to fruition in just the last handful of years. A whole universe of practical applications has only just begun to revolutionize the way we live and work, and that trend is sure to continue through 2023 and beyond.
AI comes in many forms, but civilians are mainly familiar with the kind portrayed by Hollywood, as in: “Open the pod bay doors, HAL…” and HAL’s chilling response, “I’m afraid I can’t do that, Dave.” Or the terrifying, self-aware systems like the Matrix and SKYNET. That flavor of AI is called “strong AI,” which means it is equivalent to human intelligence and able to make decisions the same way humans do. As of now, strong AI remains science fiction—as does the ominous-sounding artificial superintelligence (ASI).
But AI doesn’t need to be super to be essential. So-called “weak” or “narrow,” AI is designed to address very specific tasks or problems and is poised to revolutionize many areas of our lives. Machine learning (ML) is an essential subset of narrow AI, and it does essentially what the name suggests: ML algorithms can be fed vast amounts of data—far more than even the brightest human analyst could digest. They can then learn from that data, draw conclusions, and make predictions.
Because these programs are dynamic and self-improving, AI/ML can improve over time, discovering previously invisible patterns, opportunities, and trends. While expensive to implement at first, AI/ML has the potential to reduce costs overall, due to the increased speed and accuracy of the algorithms. Predictive analysis is already widely used in the financial services industry, for example, to improve outcomes in lending and investment, and also to fight fraud.
Another type of AI/ML is called natural-language processing. The fact that Siri and Alexa can (more or less) understand verbal instructions is a triumph of natural-language processing algorithms. These algorithms are also being used to improve customer service and online “chatbots.” Just this month, OpenAI released ChatGPT, an experimental chatbot that is able to answer questions, write poetry, and even admit its own errors.
One hot AI application to arrive last year was AI-based text-to-image generators. This technology has been in development since the 1960s, but in 2022 it went mainstream. To show you an example, I plugged the terms “tall Greek man at office party” into the DeepAI image generator and got this:
I think you’ll agree: they nailed it.
Other sectors that are or will soon be disrupted by AI/ML include healthcare, logistics, retail and of course my favorite, cybersecurity.
If you’d like to learn more about any of these topics, here are a few AI/ML articles I recommend.
- On AI/ML and financial services, from Insider Intelligence.
- On what AI/ML can bring to customer service, from Forbes.
- On the good, bad, and ugly of AI and cybersecurity, from CNBC.
- On AI image generators, from MIT.
Don’t be a SOAR Loser
Now that you’re essentially an expert on AI/ML, you should know about a related development in the cybersecurity space.
In the arms race between security specialists and hackers, the good guys have recently acquired a not-so-secret weapon: Security Orchestration Automation and Response (SOAR). SOAR is a set of processes and software that can help address some of the key weaknesses in most every cybersecurity program. Those weaknesses include:
- extreme amounts of highly repetitive (albeit highly necessary) tasks
- disconnected networks, devices, and departments at the same company
- An inability to hire enough experienced people
SOAR can automate many basic (read: tedious) cybersecurity tasks by applying the principles of AI/ML (see, I told you that would come in handy!).
Perfect example: one of the most common frustrations in cybersecurity today is the phishing email. Phishing involves sending messages that appear to be from a trusted source (a bank, a client, a co-worker, etc) to trick the victim into offering useful information such as passwords, or into opening up a file that contains a virus. In most companies, employees are instructed to forward any suspicious messages to the cybersecurity team. Dealing with phishing emails is straightforward from a security perspective… but it still has to be done. And done. And done again. SOAR creates efficiencies by automating this process—thereby giving your team their lives back.
Another example: consider the security breach that occurs at 3:15 am, when no one is in the office. SOAR can be used to create a “playbook” of automatic responses to threats. This enables the system to jump into action at the first detection of a threat, rather than waiting until a human sees the notification. Another benefit is that SOAR systems can easily be updated with the latest threat information.
To be clear, SOAR is no replacement for an experienced cybersecurity team. The team still has to create the playbook, check the work, and so on. This is no “John Henry the steel-driving man” type of scenario. What SOAR does, however, is automate many mind-numbing tasks—which computers are often better at anyway—thus freeing up your people for more broadly analytical and future-focused activities, which humans are better at (for the time being!).
Another benefit of SOAR—this falls under the “operations” part of the acronym—is that it unites the security of the various networks, devices, and departments that a company may be running separately. Attempting to monitor disconnected networks by hand can easily lead to mistakes, delays, and general confusion. SOAR helps eliminate these problems by bringing the entire company’s cybersecurity under one umbrella.
If you want to read more about SOAR, here are some places to start.
- The cybersecurity firm Rapid7 has a useful primer on what SOAR is all about.
- The Cyberpedia also has information on SOAR and compares it with other systems.
Hey You, Get Offa My Cloud
If you’ve ever had a teenager ask you for your Netflix password—or, ahem, if you’ve ever asked a teenager to help you with a Netflix password—then you’re familiar with cloud computing whether you realize it or not. “The cloud” is just an organizing metaphor for the idea that data (which could be movies, photos, emails, spreadsheets, or anything else) can be stored on massive servers and then accessed by any device with the right credentials.
Well-known cloud services include the Google Cloud Platform (GCP), Amazon Web Services, and Microsoft Azure. These firms and many more employ massive “server farms” to store data for individuals, corporations, and governments. There are a lot of advantages to cloud computing, such as the ability to access data from anywhere on nearly any Internet-enabled device, and the fact that storage potentially is essentially limitless. Also, if you drop a device in the toilet (you know who you are), restoring your data from a cloud back-up couldn’t be easier.
There are some real downsides, of course. If your Internet connection is disrupted, you are out of luck when it comes to accessing your cloud-based data. Also, the fact that any device can access the cloud means bad actors may access it, too.
Still, corporate users have usually found the positive aspects of cloud computing to far out-weigh the negative. Increasingly we have seen more and more firms move to cloud-based models; not just for data storage but for all kinds of other uses, such as infrastructure-as-a-service, software as-a-service, and platform as a service. As noted by Forbes writer Bernard Marr, “Cloud technology essentially makes every other technology lighter, faster, and more accessible from a customer point of view.” When the pandemic hit in 2020, it was the cloud (actually, many clouds) that enabled work to continue in lockdown. Infrastructure-as-a-service, Gartner has predicted that global spending on cloud services approached $500 billion by the end of 2022.
Another important development last year was the expansion of what’s called “hybrid clouds.” Back in ancient times—say, a couple of years ago—any business that wanted to employ a cloud-based model had two choices: a “public” cloud, where strangers’ data is stored alongside their own; and a “private” cloud, which essentially means that only their data would be stored at a particular server. Private clouds, as you can imagine, don’t come cheap; but public clouds don’t always come secure. The hybrid model allows sensitive data to be held privately and closely monitored while other data–particularly that which needs to be accessed quickly and often—to be stored on public clouds such as the aforementioned services offered by Microsoft (Azure) and Amazon (AWS). This patchwork of different types of services will continue to evolve as businesses search for the most opportune combination of computing styles.
In 2023 can also expect to hear more about the “serverless” cloud, such as AWS Lambda from Amazon and Azure Functions from Microsoft. The name “serverless” is a bit of a misnomer, because the servers are still there. But the idea is that a customer doesn’t have to lease a set amount of space for a set amount of time—instead, the service is essentially pay-per-use and will scale up or down as needed.
If you’d like to learn more about all the clouds in the sky, I recommend these pieces:
- Future trends in cloud computing at Forbes.
- More trends from the folks at TechRepublic.
- Learn more about how to learn more, from GeekFlare.
I hope that this brief overview of important trends for 2023 has been useful. Stay tuned to the CyberProfessor blog for lots more information that will help you navigate the “river” of cybersecurity.
Before I sign off for now, one more story about the Rabbit that will be guiding our year.
One day, the Rabbit encountered an old beggar. Seeing that the beggar was desperately hungry, the Rabbit offered to sacrifice himself by jumping into the fire and turning himself into food for the starving man. At the last moment, the beggar revealed himself to be the Jade Emperor in disguise! The emperor rescued the Rabbit from the fire and generously rewarded his kindness. A good lesson for all of us as we confront the coming year!