Can Digital Shadows Meet the Award Hype for Their Cyber Defense Product

April 28, 2017

The article on Zawya titled Digital Shadows Continues to Make Waves with Two Prestigious Award Wins positions Digital Shadows as the juggernaut of the risk management market with its product SearchLight sweeping up honors left and right from Cyber Defense Magazine, Momentum Partners, and the 2016 SINET awards. Each accolade cites Digital Shadows cutting edge technology and strategy. What makes the company so innovative?

Digital Shadows monitors for digital risks beyond the boundary of an organization, identifying cyber threats, data leakage and reputational risk. It then notifies clients of data leaks online; hacktivists’ or cybercriminals’ plans to target the organization; employees or suppliers putting themselves and their company at risk; along with criminals selling company information and data on the surface and dark web.

Beyond this, the alerts themselves are verified and rated in urgency by a team of analysts who also advise the organization on how to proceed for customized threat intelligence. Alastair Paterson, CEO and Co-Founder, calls the process a “marriage” between the technology and the human team. Digital Shadows has seen monumental growth in the triple digits for the past three years including opening new offices in Dallas, San Francisco, and London and building an employee base of over 100 people.

Chelsea Kerwin, April 28, 2017

Palantir Technologies: A Beatdown Buzz Ringing in My Ears

April 27, 2017

I have zero contacts at Palantir Technologies. The one time I valiantly contacted the company about a speaking opportunity at one of my wonky DC invitation-only conferences, a lawyer from Palantir referred my inquiry to a millennial who had a one word vocabulary, “No.”

There you go.

I have written about Palantir Technologies because I used to be an adviser to the pre-IBM incarnation of i2 and its widely used investigation tool, Analyst’s Notebook. I did write about a misadventure between i2 Group and Palantir Technologies, but no one paid much attention to my commentary.

An outfit called Buzzfeed, however, does pay attention to Palantir Technologies. My hunch is that the online real news outfit believes there is a story in the low profile, Peter Thiel-supported company. The technology Palantir has crafted is not that different from the Analyst’s Notebook, Centrifuge Systems’ solution, and quite a few other companies which provide industrial-strength software and systems to law enforcement, security firms, and the intelligence community. (I list about 15 of these companies in my forthcoming “Dark Web Notebook.” No, I won’t provide that list in this free blog. I may be retired, but I am not giving away high value information.)

So what’s caught my attention. I read the article “Palantir’s Relationship with the Intelligence Community Has Been Worse Than You Think.” The main idea is that the procurement of Palantir’s Gotham and supporting services provided by outfits specializing in Palantir systems has not been sliding on President Reagan’s type of Teflon. The story has been picked up and recycled by several “real” news outfits; for example, Brainsock. The story meshes like matryoshkas with other write ups; for example, “Inside Palantir, Silicon Valley’s Most Secretive Company” and “Palantir Struggles to Retain Clients and Staff, BuzzFeed Reports.” Palantir, it seems to me in Harrod’s Creek, is a newsy magnet.

The write up about Palantir’s lousy relationship with the intelligence community pivots on a two year old video. I learned that the Big Dog at Palantir, Alex Karp, said in a non public meeting which some clever Hobbit type videoed on a smartphone words presented this way by the real news outfit:

The private remarks, made during a staff meeting, are at odds with a carefully crafted public image that has helped Palantir secure a $20 billion valuation and win business from a long list of corporations, nonprofits, and governments around the world. “As many of you know, the SSDA’s recalcitrant,” Karp, using a Palantir codename for the CIA, said in the August 2015 meeting. “And we’ve walked away, or they walked away from us, at the NSA. Either way, I’m happy about that.” The CIA, he said, “may not like us. Well, when the whole world is using Palantir they can still not like us. They’ll have no choice.” Suggesting that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had also had friction with Palantir, he continued, “That’s de facto how we got the FBI, and every other recalcitrant place.”

Okay, I don’t know the context of the remarks. It does strike me that 2015 was more than a year ago. In the zippy doo world of Sillycon Valley, quite a bit can change in one year.

I don’t know if you recall Paul Doscher who was the CEO of Exalead USA and Lucid Imagination (before the company asserted that its technology actually “works). Mr. Doscher is a good speaker, but he delivered a talk in 2009, captured on video, during which he was interviewed by a fellow in a blue sport coat and shirt. Mr. Doscher wore a baseball cap in gangsta style, a crinkled unbuttoned shirt, and evidenced a hipster approach to discussing travel. Now if you know Mr. Doscher, he is not a manager influenced by gangsta style. My hunch is that he responded to an occasion, and he elected to approach travel with a bit of insouciance.

Could Mr. Karp, the focal point of the lousy relationship article, have been responding to an occasion? Could Mr. Karp have adopted a particular tone and style to express frustration with US government procurement? Keep in mind that a year later, Palantir sued the US Army. My hunch is that views expressed in front of a group of employees may not be news of the moment. Interesting? Sure.

What I find interesting is that the coverage of Palantir Technologies does not dig into the parts of the company which I find most significant. To illustrate: Palantir has a system and method for an authorized user to add new content to the Gotham system. The approach makes it possible to generate an audit trail to make it easy (maybe trivial) to answer these questions:

  1. What data were added?
  2. When were the data added?
  3. What person added the data?
  4. What index terms were added to the data?
  5. What entities were added to the metadata?
  6. What special terms or geographic locations were added to the data?

You get the idea. Palantir’s Gotham brings to intelligence analysis the type of audit trail I found some compelling in the Clearwell system and other legal oriented systems. Instead of a person in information technology saying in response to a question like “Where did this information come from?”, “Duh. I don’t know.”

Gotham gets me an answer.

For me, explaining the reasoning behind Palantir’s approach warrants a write up. I think quite a few people struggling with problems of data quality and what is called by the horrid term “governance” would find Palantir’s approach of some interest.

Now do I care about Palantir? Nah.

Do I care about bashing Palantir? Nah.

What I do care about is tabloidism taking precedence over substantive technical approaches. From my hollow in rural Kentucky, I see folks looking for “sort of” information.

How about more substantive information? I am fed up with podcasts which recycle old information with fake good cheer. I am weary of leaks. I want to know about Palantir’s approach to search and content processing and have its systems and methods compared to what its direct competitors purport to do.

Yeah, I know this is difficult to do. But nothing worthwhile comes easy, right?

I can hear the millennials shouting, “Wrong, you dinosaur.” Hey, no problem. I own a house. I don’t need tabloidism. I have picked out a rest home, and I own 60 cemetery plots.

Do your thing, dudes and dudettes of “real” journalism.

Stephen E Arnold, April 27, 2017

SirionLabs Plants New United States Headquarters in California

April 27, 2017

The article on TechCrunch titled SirionLabs Establishes US Foothold to Scale Its NLP Contract Management Software frames the rapid growth and expansion of the enterprise vendor management software provider founded in 2012. SirionLabs was founded by CEO Ajay Agrawal, who recognized the large cost of supplier relationship management built into a contract’s value and decided to start a company focused on automating the process, but only partially. The article explains,

The establishment of a U.S. presence represents a strategic shift in the company’s growth plans…While the startup has had offices in the U.K., Germany, Denmark and Singapore, it has been slow to establish a permanent U.S. team…Sirion, the company’s platform, is currently used by companies like BP and Vestas to manage service providers and augment humans that traditionally manage vendor relationships. The startup expects to use natural language processing to analyze more than $8 billion in total contract value over the next year.

In order to mitigate the risk of the enormous number of potential discrepancies in a given contract, Sirion compels both parties to be accountable by agreeing on the outcome. That addendum hasn’t scared off BP, or Seal Software clients such as Deloitte, HP, Experian, and SalesForce.

Chelsea Kerwin, April 27, 2017

Palantir Technologies: Still a Go To Buzzfeed Topic

April 26, 2017

There’s nothing like leaked information and alleged missteps by top dogs. I have become somewhat tired of ad hominem revelations. How about some good old technical analysis?

That question is likely to be ignored or dismissed as the howling of an old person in Harrod’s Creek, Kentucky. That’s okay, but I want to comment briefly about “Palantir’s Relationship With The Intelligence Community Has Been Worse Than You’d Think” and then circle back to a way to write about Palantir without the the National Enquirer thrill of humans who trip over their sneakers’ shoe laces.

The idea in the write up, in my opinion, is:

[Palantir’s] chief executive described the CIA as “recalcitrant” in the summer of 2015.

The topic is Alex Karp, not the Palantir Technologies’ Gotham system and how it compares to alternatives cropping up like weeds around the mine drainage pond near my log cabin in rural Kentucky.

I learned:

One source of the tension, these people said, has been Palantir’s failure to quash persistent publicity about its CIA business and about its supposed role in helping to track down Osama bin Laden.

Big surprise. Marketing clashes with engineers. Engineers side with the client. When marketing yaps about a client, there is blowback. This is news?

I found this assertion interesting as well:

The Palantir software, built with the CIA in mind, works better for managing HUMINT, or intelligence from human sources, than SIGINT, or intelligence from signals, which is the NSA’s bread and butter, people familiar with it say. Even Palantir insiders say it’s not surprising that the NSA relationship never took off.

I did my share of fumbling and bumbling in Washington, DC. I learned that the reasons why a particular vendor’s system does not take off in certain situations can be a result of many factors. Let me highlight a few to underscore why generalizations based on a two year old video and chatter about secret work can drag red herrings across a procurement:

  1. There is conflict, distrust, or active dislike between a player on the government’s side and on the vendor’s side. Is it possible for a Navy captain to refuse to work with a vendor’s contact who is an Admiral Rickover acolyte. You bet your mug of death cow on that being accurate.
  2. The procuring agency wants its own toys. Now the objective procurement process can be shaped to keep the big dog happy. Consequently, certain products, systems, and software get acquired even though lower level professionals do not want that product, system, or software. Don’t you love Oracle?
  3. There is a conflict between philosophies about to complete a mission. Operations folks like to go from A to B and achieve the objective. Some of those objectives are not the sort of thing one talks about at lunch Cosi’s in DC or in the aisle at the Interbay Meat Market. There is natural fiction between analysts who monitor intercept feeds and operations types who get shot at. Side with one or the other, but having both as best buds is tough.

There are other issues which enter into procurements, but I don’t need to rehash the fact that certain Beltway Bandits are aces at one government agency and losers at another. Vendor history can also play a role. Hey, if you want to kick IBM out of some projects, give it a whirl and let me know how your next job hunt is going, okay?

My point is simple one. I would prefer to read about the differences between Gotham and Analyst’s Notebook in comparison with systems from Centrifuge today. I cannot get interested in or excited about a two year old video.

But today, hey, anything goes. I try to identify silly write ups like the one coming along about why Thomson Reuters is the answer company. Maybe the reason is that Thomson Reuters has licensed Palantir Technologies’ software. That’s sort of interesting.

The old video. In front of staff. Sigh. A contractor’s bad relationship. Sorry. Boring. Routine. Part of the game. Just like CEOs who say things which perhaps should have been phrased differently.

Stephen E Arnold, April 26, 2017

Online Translation Becomes a Joke

April 26, 2017

I am not much of a TV buff. I noted the article “Anne Hathaway Sang the Most Awkward Google Translations Beautifully on Jimmy Fallon.” I noted that I will survive was allegedly translated as “I will be punctual.” Close, right. The image below shows the original lyric and Google Translate’s version:


Online translation definitely loses none of the nuance and emotional impact. Ooops ooops. When that artificial intelligence controls autonomous drones, what could go wrong? Answer: Nothing. Perfect.

Stephen E Arnold, April 27, 2017

Keyword Search vs. Semantic Search for Patent Seekers

April 26, 2017

The article on BIP Counsels titled An Introduction to Patent Search, Keyword Search, and Semantic Searches offers a brief overview of the differences between keyword, and semantic search. The article is geared towards inventors and technologists in the early stages of filing a patent application. The article states,

If an inventor proceeds with the patent filing process without performing an exhaustive prior art search, it may hamper the patent application at a later point, such as in the prosecution process. Hence, a thorough search involving all possible relevant techniques is always advisable… Search tools such as ‘semantic search assistant’ help the user find similar patent families based on freely entered text.  The search method is ideal for concept based search.

Ultimately the article fails to go beyond the superficial when it comes to keyword and semantic search. One almost suspects that the author (BananaIP patent attorneys) wants to send potential DIY-patent researchers running into their office for help. Yes, terminology plays a key role in keyword searches. Yes, semantic search can help narrow the focus and relevancy of the results. If you want more information than that, you may want to visit the patent attorney. But probably not the one that wrote this article.

Chelsea Kerwin, April 26, 2017

Amazon Aims to Ace the Chatbots

April 26, 2017

Amazon aims to insert itself into every aspect of daily life and the newest way it does is with the digital assistant Alexa.  Reuters reports that, “Amazon Rolls Out Chatbot Tools In Race To Dominate Voice-Powered Tech,” explaining how Amazon plans to expand Alexa’s development.  The retail giant recently released the technology behind Alexa to developers, so they can build chat features into apps.

Amazon is eager to gain dominance in voice-controlled technology.  Apple and Google both reign supreme when it comes to talking computers, chatbots, and natural language processing.  Amazon has a huge reach, perhaps even greater than Apple and Google, because people have come to rely on it for shopping.  Chatbots have a notorious history for being useless and Microsoft’s Tay even turned into a racist, chauvinist program.

The new Alexa development tool is called Alexa Lex, which is hosted on the cloud.  Alexa is already deployed in millions of homes and it is fed a continuous data stream that is crucial to the AI’s learning:

Processing vast quantities of data is key to artificial intelligence, which lets voice assistants decode speech. Amazon will take the text and recordings people send to apps to train Lex – as well as Alexa – to understand more queries.

That could help Amazon catch up in data collection. As popular as Amazon’s Alexa-powered devices are, such as Echo speakers, the company has sold an estimated 10 million or more.

Amazon Alexa is a competent digital assistant, able to respond to vocal commands and even offers voice-only shop via Amazon.  As noted, Alexa’s power rests in its data collection and ability to learn natural language processing.  Bitext uses a similar method but instead uses trained linguists to build its analytics platform.

Whitney Grace, April 26, 2017

HonkinNews for 25 April 2017 Now Available

April 25, 2017

This week’s HonkinNews features some smart software shenanigans. A late night talk show host used Google Translate, not human joke writers, to craft a clever sketch. Google Translate presented “I will survive” as “I will be punctual.” To beat that noteworthy deliverable, IBM Watson helped H&R Block this tax season. The empty white cube from IBM’s less than memorable Super Bowl ad seemed to be a metaphor for IBM’s 20th consecutive quarter of declining revenue. H&R Block also reported a downturn. Should I ask Watson what happened? Nah. Microsoft channeled IBM Watson in NICE health care. To sidestep the gremlins in automated question answering, Microsoft will use humans to make sure the information is — nice. Smart software may put lip readers out of work. The program includes a modern application of the fox in the hen house. To see how the advertising chickens react to Google’s stepping in to make objectionable ads into egg salad, watch the program. The program is at this link.

Kenny Toty, April 25, 2017

Thomson Reuters: Now the Answer Company

April 25, 2017

Earlier this year I saw a reference to “the answer company.” I ignored it. Yesterday I saw a link to a podcast with Casey Hall, who is the “head of social media for business communications” at Thomson Reuters. Thomson Reuters is a publicly traded company with revenues in the $14 billion range. Here’s a Google chart showing how the company has performed over the last few years:


To my untrained eye, it looks as if revenues are down and profits are up. Yikes. How were those cost savings achieved? Perhaps the podcast explains how “the answer company” will boost revenues and continue to generate sustainable returns for stakeholders and, of course, senior management.

The podcast addresses a number of Thomson Reuters’ themes. One, for instance, is the fact that the company has 45,000 employees and a “giant footprint.” As the podcast ground forward, I realized that “the answer company” wants its employees to embrace employee advocacy.

It seems that “the answer company” is trying to communicate with its employees. According to the write up “How Thomson Reuters Earned the Brand as The Answer Company” accompanying the podcast told me:

Thomson Reuters encourages their employees to engage with their network of data scientists, finance, and accounting professionals by sharing the brand’s message. Leveraging their employees’ networks allows them to increase their reach and enhance the authenticity of the message since it’s coming from a real person, the employee. The employee advocacy program also helps with internal communications. Employees engage with each other and share what’s going on in their part of the organization.

Yeah, but, what about explaining “how” Thomson Reuters became “the answer company”? As it turns out, the podcast focused exclusively on “on boarding employees,” which I don’t really understand. Another topic was measuring the impact of the employee advocacy program. I think this means closing sales.

I suppose that Thomson Reuters just decided it needed a new tag line even thought its online services usually require a person to run a search, read a results list, and hunt for the needed information. That’s not answers. That’s work.

I believe that Thomson Reuters licensed the Palantir Technologies’ system in order to have tools which make sense of information. But if the podcast is any indication of how Thomson Reuters became “the answer company,” my thought is that the company is trying social media as a sales tool.

As for answers, one still has to hunt to find out what companies Thomson Reuters owns. One has to run queries on its online legal information systems and then hunt for answers.

Ah, PR. Love it. An article title which does not related to the content of the podcast OR the article.

Stephen E Arnold, April 24, 2017

Google Search Quality: Heading South?

April 25, 2017

Forbes, the capitalists tool, ran this article or sponsored content on April 17, 2017: “Is Google’s Search Quality Starting to Decline?” My first reaction was the question, “Compared to what? Precision and recall scores? Other free, ad supported Web search systems? Looking up information in a commercial database?

My questions were just off base or from another dimension.

The capitalist tool does not fool around when it comes to explaining why something is good or bad. The capitalist tool walks like Commodore Vanderbilt; that is, somewhat unsteadily in his dotage.

I learned from the capitalist tool:

Individual users, companies and organizations, and even governments have stepped up to blame Google for not providing quality results.

The “quality” idea comes from Search Engine Land, a publication which embraces Web search and search engine optimization. That orientation is okay with me, but it has very little to do with relevance. There is that annoying precision calculation. Plus, there is the equally annoying recall calculation. Some die hards actually create a statistically valid sample and attempt to determine if results from queries delivered the information the person running the query expected. There are library schools and researchers who worry about these silly methods. Not so much with the SEO crowd.

Back to the argument in the capitalist tool. I highlighted this passage:

users have always had the ability to report offensive auto complete suggestions, but now, Google has made the process more visible and immediate. In an even bigger push, Google has employed more than 10,000 independent contractors to serve as “quality raters,” responsible for identifying and flagging inaccurate and offensive material including fake news, for various search queries.

Ah, Google’s quality scores determined by Google’s smart software and its well crafted algorithms are no longer enough? Well, that’s a surprise. I thought the fake news, the mismatched ads, and the relaxation of queries to make that ad inventory shrink more rapidly were not much of an issue. Well, there is that push back from outfits like AT&T, but what’s a few cancelled ads from a minnow like AT&T.

The capitalist tool knows where it’s next Whopper is coming from. I circled this statement:

It’s important to realize just how sophisticated Google is, and how far it’s come from its early stages, as well as the impossibility of having a “perfect” search platform. Humans are flawed creatures, and our actions are what are dictating the shape of search. We can patchwork some of these problems, but the Google search quality crisis won’t disappear overnight, and can’t be blamed for being anything more than the byproduct of a sufficiently sophisticated machine designed to serve us.

Interesting idea—blame.

My takeaway from this scintillating analysis is that the capitalist tool needs to do a few queries about “quality”. Just a thought. By the way, the databases to use will not be part of the result set. Google partitions its indexes so that a research has to run queries across different Google silos. Also, commercial databases are likely to provide more comprehensive results from sources Google does not index. Hey, who cares about this precision and recall stuff when writing about offensive answers to queries, Google’s auto complete mechanism, rich snippets, and popularity?

Not too many at Forbes I surmise. Maybe SEO is search to these smart people who can demystify SEO and mystify information retrieval.

Stephen E Arnold, April 25, 2017

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