Tag Archives: Africa

iSIGHT – INTELLIGENT AIMS

Intelligence Start-Up Goes Behind Enemy Lines to Get Ahead of Hackers

By NICOLE PERLROTHSEPT. 13, 2015

One of scores of intelligence analysts working at his computer at the headquarters of the security firm iSight in Chantilly, Va. Credit Gabriella Demczuk for The New York Times

CHANTILLY, Va. — On a recent Wednesday morning, 100 intelligence analysts crammed into a nondescript conference room here and dialed into a group call with 100 counterparts in Argentina, Brazil, Cyprus, India, the Netherlands, Romania, Spain, Taiwan and Ukraine.

As they worked their way around the room, the analysts briefed one another on the latest developments in the “dark web.”

A security firm in Pakistan was doing a little moonlighting, selling its espionage tools for as little as $500. Several American utility companies were under attack. A group of criminals were up to old tricks, infecting victims with a new form of “ransomware,” which encrypts PCs until victims pay a ransom.

The analysts, employees of iSight Partners, a company that provides intelligence about threats to computer security in much the same way military scouts provide intelligence about enemy troops, were careful not to name names or clients, in case someone, somewhere, was listening on the open line.
John Watters, iSight’s chief, evokes military jargon to talk about his company’s focus. Credit Brandon Thibodeaux for The New York Times

For the last eight years, iSight has been quietly assembling what may be the largest private team of experts in a nascent business called threat intelligence. Of the company’s 311 employees, 243 are so-called cyberintelligence professionals, a statistic that executives there say would rank iSight, if it were a government-run cyberintelligence agency, among the 10 largest in the world, though that statistic is impossible to verify given the secretive nature of these operations.

ISight analysts spend their days digging around the underground web, piecing together hackers’ intentions, targets and techniques to provide their clients with information like warnings of imminent attacks and the latest tools and techniques being used to break into computer networks.

The company’s focus is what John P. Watters, iSight’s chief executive, calls “left of boom,” which is military jargon for the moment before an explosive device detonates. Mr. Watters, a tall, 51-year-old Texan whose standard uniform consists of Hawaiian shirts and custom cowboy boots, frequently invokes war analogies when talking about online threats.

“When we went into Iraq, the biggest loss of life wasn’t from snipers,” he said. It was from concealed explosive devices. “We didn’t get ahead of the threat until we started asking ourselves, ‘Who’s making the bombs? How are they getting their materials? How are they detonating them? And how do we get into that cycle before the bombs are ever placed there?’”

“Our business,” Mr. Watters continued, “is tracking the arms merchants and bomb makers so we can be left of boom and avoid the impact altogether.”

ISight’s investors, who have put $60 million into the company so far, believe that its services fill a critical gap in the battle to get ahead of threats. Most security companies, like FireEye, Symantec, Palo Alto Networks and Intel’s security unit, focus on blocking or detecting intrusions as they occur or responding to attacks after the fact.

ISight goes straight to the enemy. Its analysts — many of them fluent in Russian, Mandarin, Portuguese or 21 other languages — infiltrate the underground, where they watch criminals putting their schemes together and selling their tools.

The analysts’ reports help clients — including 280 government agencies, as well as banks and credit-card, health care, retail and oil and gas companies — prioritize the most imminent and possibly destructive threats.

Security experts say the need for such intelligence has never been greater. For the last three years, businesses have been investing in “big data” analytic tools that sound alarms anytime someone does something unusual, like gain access to a server in China, set up a private connection or siphon unusually large amounts of data from a corporate network.

The result is near constant and confusing noise. “Except for the most mature organizations, most businesses are drowning in alerts,” said Jason Clark, the chief security officer at Optiv, a security firm.

The average organization receives 16,937 alerts a week. Only 19 percent of them are deemed “reliable,” and only 4 percent are investigated, according to a study released in January by the Ponemon Institute, which tracks data breaches. By the time criminals make enough noise to merit a full investigation, it can take financial services companies more than three months, on average, to discover them, and retailers more than six months.

“Just generating more alerts is wasting billions of dollars of venture capital,” said David Cowan, an iSight investor and a partner at Bessemer Venture Partners. The last thing an executive in charge of network security needs is more alerts, he said: “They don’t have time. They need human, actionable threat intelligence.”

Mr. Cowan and others point to what happened to Target in 2013, when the retailer ignored an alert that ultimately could have stopped criminals from stealing 40 million customers’ payment details from its network.

A year earlier, iSight warned its clients that criminals were compiling and selling malware that was specifically designed to scrape payment data off cash registers. Had Target received that warning, the blip on its network might not have gone unnoticed.

“Target faced the same problem every retailer does every day,” Mr. Watters said. “They are awash in a sea of critical alerts every day. Without threat intelligence, they had roulette odds of picking the right one.”

Gartner, the research firm, estimates that the market for threat intelligence like iSight’s could grow to $1 billion in two years from $255 million in 2013. Gartner predicts that by 2018, 60 percent of businesses will incorporate threat intelligence into their defensive security strategy.

ISight, which plans to file for an initial public offering of stock next year, hopes to capitalize, as do the dozens of other cyberthreat intelligence outfits now flooding the market, each with a slightly different approach.

That proliferation of start-ups has led to a new complaint from computer security chiefs: overlapping information — sometimes as much as 40 percent — in the reports they receive, none of which is cheap. ISight charges customers based on size, and while it does not disclose pricing, some customers say they pay $500,000 or more annually for the company’s services, as much as five times what low-end services charge.

ISight makes 90 percent of its revenue from subscriptions to its six intelligence streams, each focused on a particular threat, including cyberespionage and cybercrime.

The company’s most recent competition comes from its oldest clients, particularly banks, which have been hiring former intelligence analysts to start internal operations. One former client, which declined to be named because of concerns that doing so could violate a nondisclosure agreement, said it had been able to build its own intelligence program at half the cost of its canceled iSight subscriptions.

But most businesses do not have the same resources as, say, a company like Bank of America, whose chief executive recently said there was no cap on the bank’s cybersecurity budget.

Many of those businesses remain paralyzed by the drumbeat of alarms that expensive security technologies are sounding on their networks.

At iSight’s threat center, the company’s approach is perhaps best summed up by a logo emblazoned on a T-shirt worn by one of its top analysts: “Someone should do something.”

DEEP BACKGROUND

Fascinating study linking genetic variation to language and linguistic variation.

Probing the deep history of human genes and language

2 hours ago by David Orenstein
Probing the deep history of human genes and language
Diversity of differences. Researchers analyzed distinct sounds — phonemes — in more than 2,000 languages around the world alongside genetic markers from more than 200 populations to uncover geographic patterns of how languages differ.
Brown University evolutionary biologist Sohini Ramachandran has joined with colleagues in publishing a sweeping analysis of genetic and linguistic patterns across the world’s populations. Among the findings is that geographic distance predicts differentiation in both language and genes.

Producing new insights into the evolution and development of around the globe is no easy task, but scientists can draw on multiple sources of data to do it. In a new study, Sohini Ramachandran and colleagues at Stanford University and University of Manitoba analyzed troves of data on genetics and distinct sounds in —phonemes—to discern important patterns.

Among the findings published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is that genes and languages both vary more as geographic distance increases. The analysis showed there are distinct geographic patterns, or axes, of the greatest differences. The data also reflect how languages and genes evolve differently, for instance among isolated populations.

Ramachandran, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, discussed these and other insights with writer David Orenstein.

Why are language and genes sometimes combined in studies of populations?

Fields that study the human past, especially ancient human history, have to draw on multiple disciplines and lines of evidence in order to confirm and calibrate observed signatures in data, since we can’t truly know all events in human history. Because language is inherited ‘vertically’ [from parents to children] like genes, and also changes ‘horizontally’ based on contact among populations, many researchers in genetics interpret analyses of DNA from different populations in the context of the languages the study populations speak.

This kind of interdisciplinary work is what initially drew me to studying .

In this study what did you find was similar between languages and genes and what was different?

We saw that axes of differentiation in both our linguistic and genetic dataset corresponded, meaning that differences in both datasets of very different types of markers were geographically distributed quite similarly.

One very interesting contrast we saw between languages and genes had to do with isolated populations: an isolated population loses genetic diversity rapidly, as individuals marry within the ; in contrast, we saw a range of variation in linguistic markers for languages that are geographically isolated (have few neighboring languages). Some languages that are isolated lose complexity and others gain complexity and innovate new sounds. This makes me wonder whether contact among populations homogenizes their languages in some way so people can understand each other.

We found that linguistic markers do not hold signatures of the human expansion out of Africa, which is not surprising due to the rate at which languages changes and can be influenced by neighboring languages.

Tell us more about that difference between what genes and languages showed regarding human origins in Africa?

To be precise, genes tell us that the people living today with the most currently live in Southern Africa (like the San bushmen) and that modern humans emerged in Africa, but we don’t know where the geographic origin of our species was precisely based on genetic data. The language analysis did not reveal this African origin because language changes in a complex way, much differently from genes where we have a good sense of the mutation process. In my conversations with different linguists, including those at Brown who generously listened to me present our ideas multiple times, the rate at which language mutates, and which linguistic markers are more likely to change than others, seems to be an open question.

You found geographic axes, or directions, of difference in language and genetics. What might they tell us about human evolution and history?

These axes, which look for directions along which a dataset is most differentiated, tell us about axes along which humans likely did not migrate a great deal. For example, migration north/south in Africa would mean moving across climate regimes; we also know populations are quite different across latitudes in Europe and we see that for both our language datasets and genetic datasets.

What do your findings tell us about how we can use genes and language, either together or separately, for population studies?

We learn more from using both data types together and analyzing them using similar methods than we would have learned from either type alone. One signal we saw loud and clear in this study is how much geographic distance affected our ancestors’ and languages; geographic distance predicts differentiation in both data types, underscoring that there are still deep signatures of ancient migrations in our genomes and cultures today.

Explore further: Oceans apart: Study reveals insights into the evolution of languages

More information: “A comparison of worldwide phonemic and genetic variation in human populations,” by Nicole Creanza et al. PNAS, www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1424033112

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2015-01-probing-deep-history-human-genes.html#jCp

FIH, GEORGE WASHINGTON CARVER, HOMESCHOOLING, AND AGENT CARTER

There is a show I very much enjoy watching when I can. It’s called Faith in History. Yes, the guy who conducts the show has a very pronounced sort of stumbling delivery when he speaks, but despite that, which often makes it difficult to follow him, I very much like the guy and the show is superb.

Today at lunch my youngest daughter and I sat down to watch the latest recorded episode because it was about George Washington Carver (and lately she had requested that she be allowed to study African history, which I’ll get back to in a moment) and although Carver is as American as peanut butter he was black and he was in my opinion the second greatest native inventor this nation ever produced (shy of Edison), and the very greatest bio-chemist (bar none) and one of the very greatest scientists this nation ever produced.

(Being particularly partial and interested in the biological, chemical, and genetic sciences myself I really like Carver and his work. He was brilliant, and well ahead of his time.)

Plus, I very much agree with his approach to invention, which I’ll recount later, as it is the closest parallel to my own method of invention that I have ever encountered in history.

Anyway it was an extremely good episode on Carver, dwelling upon both his scientific achievements and his personal life and faith.

My daughter seemed to enjoy the episode quite a bit, and as we watched it we would stop the show at various points and discuss science, God, technology, history, invention, writing, politics, and so forth. As is our wont when watching or discussing anything educational.

As for Carver’s methods of discovery, experimentation, inspiration, and invention they closely parallel my own, as he described in numerous letters, and in this speech:

“God is going to reveal to us things He never revealed before if we put our hands in His. No books ever go into my laboratory. The thing I am to do and the way of doing it are revealed to me. I never have to grope for methods. The method is revealed to me the moment I am inspired to create something new. Without God to draw aside the curtain I would be helpless.

Locking the door to his laboratory, Dr. Carver confided:

Only alone can I draw close enough to God to discover His secrets.”

The closest other two parallels I can name are found in the methods of Newton and Archimedes, both of whom I also seek to emulate when it comes to scientific discovery and invention. Archimedes in particular, and perhaps one day soon I will discuss the Agapoloid techniques I employ, which are derived to a large extent from Archimedes’ internal and mental mathematical and geometric laboratory.

After that and as we were cleaning up from lunch my daughter asked me if she could begin two independent courses of study.

My oldest child began her independent courses of study (that is to say she would choose two out of six curriculum areas to study in a self-directed fashion) at the age of 17 but my youngest wants to start now, at age 15.

Knowing now what I do about how advanced my children are and having loosened up a good deal over time with my second child I agreed and asked her to make me a list of what she most wanted to study.

Independent Areas of study are, of course, courses of study she chooses for herself, based upon her own interests, and in which she will do detailed research and work at the college level. Of course she’s been at college level in all her subject areas for a while now, but I mean detailed enough to write a collegiate term paper.

Her list was as follows:
1. Germany (pre-Nazi war era – my oldest daughter is a WWII history nut, as I was at her age, but my younger daughter seems to prefer much earlier time periods. Ancient, Classical, and Medieval.)
2. Africa (I am going to suggest to her that she begins her in-depth studies of Africa with either Egypt, or with Cush or Nubia or Ethiopia, as I have already done my own in detailed archaeological and historical studies of these ancient areas and kingdoms/realms as research for my novels. So I am already familiar with some excellent research materials. Plus those kingdoms were either advanced or relatively advanced. I’m also going to suggest she make an entirely separate study of ancient Alexandria. But in the end it will be up to her, those are just my suggestions.)
3. African Wildlife, Biology, and Geography
4. English Grammar (yes, being a writer this pleases me, but the girl actually loves grammar, English and Latin – I love language and primarily vocabulary and philology, but she loves grammar)
5. Italy (I’ve yet to ask her if she means ancient Italy, such as Etruscan/Roman eras, of if she means Medieval or Modern Italy, prior to World War II. If it’s ancient Rome that’s good though she just finished the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and if Medieval Italy I’ll suggest studying Florence and Naples and Venice as city-states, and as commerce hubs. As a matter of fact just last year I finished a superb set of lectures on Florence, her naval power, and her trade that she should really enjoy.)

Lastly now that my older daughter is working and preparing for college my youngest daughter and I spend much more time together. The other night we were watching Agent Carter together and I was commenting on how much more clever the general level of conversation, formal or colloquial, was back then (in the Forties to early Fifties – language started declining in the mid-Fifties). That the language was snappier and more ironic than it is today, the level of conversation was far more clever, plus it was filled with universal cultural references and idioms.

“But,” I said, “I don’t care much for the décor or architecture of that time period. And I could have never walked around all day in a monkey suit.”

“Dad,” she said, “you must be crazy! I love the décor, the architecture, the clothes, and especially the cars and airplanes from that time period. I love almost everything about the Forties and I’d love to go back and live in that time period, minus, you know, the whole segregation and suppression of women things.”

“Yeah, I guess there is always that,” I said.

“But otherwise the Forties are for me!”

She’s a throwback to my Old Man. He grew up in that time period and always loved it too.