Amazon’s Alexa Popularizes Digital Assistants

June 17, 2016

Digital assistants are smarter than ever.  I remember when PDAs were the wave of the future and meant to revolutionize lives, but they still relied on human input and did not have much in the ways of artificial intelligence.  Now Cortana, Siri, and Alexa respond to vocal commands like an episode of Star Trek.  Digital assistants are still limited in many ways, but according to Venture Beat Alexa might be changing how we interact with technology: “How Amazon’s Alexa Is Bringing Intelligent Assistance Into The Mainstream”.

Natural language processing teamed with artificial intelligence has made using digital assistants easier and more accepted.  Predictive analytics specialist MindMeld commissioned a “user adoption survey” of voice-based intelligent assistants and the results show widespread adoption.

Amazon’s Echo teamed with the Alexa speech-enabled vocal device are not necessarily dominating the market, but Amazon is showing the potential for an intelligent system with added services like Uber, music-streaming, financial partners, and many more.

“Such routine and comfort will be here soon, as IA acceptance and use continue to accelerate. What started as a novelty and source of marketing differentiation from a smartphone manufacturer has become the most convenient user interface for the Internet of Things, as well as a plain-spoken yet empathetic controller of our digital existence.”

Amazon is on the right path as are other companies experimenting with the digital assistant.  My biggest quip is that all of these digital assistants are limited and have a dollar sign attached to them greater than some people’s meal budgets.  It is not worth investing in an intelligent assistant, unless needed.  I say wait for better and cheaper technology that will be here soon.


Whitney Grace, June 17, 2016
Sponsored by, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

Dark Web Drug Sales Go on Despite One Marketplace Down

June 16, 2016

Another Dark Web drug marketplace has gone offline, at least for now. Vice’s Motherboard published an article that reports on this incident and offers insight into its larger implications in their piece, Dark Web Market Disappears, Users Migrate in Panic, Circle of Life Continues. Nucleus market mostly sold illegal drugs such as cocaine and cannabis. Now, the site is unresponsive and has made no announcements regarding downtime or a return. The article hypothesizes about why Nucleus is down,

“At the moment, it’s not totally clear why Nucleus’s website is unresponsive. It could be an exit scam—a scam where site administrators stop allowing users to withdraw their funds and then disappear with the stockpile of bitcoins. This is what happened with Evolution, one of the most successful marketplaces, in March 2015. Other examples include Sheep Marketplace, from 2013, and more recently BlackBank Market. Perhaps the site was hacked by a third party. Indeed, Nucleus claimed to be the targetof a financially motivated attack last year. Or maybe the administrators were arrested, or the site is just suffering some downtime.”

The Dark Web poses an interesting case study around the concept of a business lifecycle. As the article suggests, this graph reveals the brief, and staggered, lifetimes of dark web marketplaces. Users know they will be able to find their favorite vendors selling through other channels. It appears the show, and the sales, must go on.

Megan Feil, June 16, 2016

Sponsored by, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

Ransomware as a Service Deals in Bitcoins of Course

June 14, 2016

Countless “as-a-service” models exist online. A piece from SCMagazine, Dark web forums found offering Cerber ‘ransomware as a service’, reveals more information about one such service called ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS), which we’ve heard about now for quite some time. Ransomware injects a virus onto a machine that encrypts the user’s files where they remain inaccessible until the victim pays for a key. Apparently, an Eastern European ransomware, Cerber, has been offering RaaS on Russian Dark Web forums. According to a cyber intelligence firm Sensecy, this ransomware was setup to include “blacklisted” countries so the malware does not execute on computers in certain locations. The article shares,

“Malwarebytes Labs senior security researcher Jerome Segura said the blacklisted geographies – most of which are Eastern European countries – provide “an indication of where the malware originated.” However, he said Malwarebytes Labs has not seen an indication that the ransomware is connected to the famed APT28 group, which is widely believed to be tied to the Russian government. The recent attacks demonstrate a proliferation of ransomware attacks targeting institutions in the U.S. and Western nations, as recent reports have warned. Last week, the Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology (ICIT) released a study that predicted previously exploited vulnerabilities will soon be utilized to extract ransom.”

Another interesting bit of information to note from this piece is the going ransom is one bitcoin. Segura mentions the value ransomers ask for may be changing as he has seen some cases where the ransomer works to identify whether the user may be able to pay more. Regardless of the location of a RaaS provider, these technological feats are nothing new. The interesting piece is the supposedly untraceable ransom medium supplanting cash.


Megan Feil, June 14, 2016

Sponsored by, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

Alibaba Eyes Twiggle, Not the US Ecommerce Search Players

June 7, 2016

I read “Alibaba, the Chinese and Global Powerhouse, Is Investing in Twiggle, a Stealthy Israeli Ecommerce Search Start Up.” I love the stealthy part. Twiggle cannot be too stealthy because Alibaba found out about the system.

I learned in the write up:

Twiggle was funded back in 2013, and its founders were formerly leaders at Google, namely Dr. Amir Konigsberg, previously one of the members of Google’s operations in the emerging markets and former managing director of, and Dr. Adi Avidor, a former engineering tech lead at Google. Combined, the two have authored more than 35 U.S. patents and bring a wealth of experience in digital innovation in the fields of search, artificial intelligence and ecommerce.

The system delivers search and discovery. Crunchbase points out that the company has ingested about $20 million since it opened its doors in 2014.

I assume that the heartbeats of EasyAsk and SLI Systems sped up when word of Alibaba’s search proclivities diffused. With this alleged tie up, I assume the heart rates of the principals at EasyAsk and SLI Systems, assorted open source firms, and probably the every ready IBM Watson have slowed.

Stephen E Arnold, June 7, 2016

eBay Struggles with Cluttered, Unstructured Data, Deploys Artificial Intelligence Strategy

May 24, 2016

The article on Forbes titled eBay’s Next Move: Artificial Intelligence To Refine Product Searches predicts a strong future for eBay as the company moves further into machine learning. For roughly six years eBay has been working with Expertmaker, a Swedish AI and analytics company. Forbes believes that eBay may have recently purchased Expertmaker. The article explains the logic behind this logic,

“One of the key turnaround goals of eBay is to encourage sellers to define their products using structured data, making it easier for the marketplace to show relevant search results to buyers. The acquisition of Expertmaker should help the company in this initiative, given its expertise in artificial intelligence, machine learning and big data.”

The acquisition of Expertmaker should allow for a more comprehensive integration of eBay’s “noisy data.” Expertmaker’s AI strategy is based in genetics research, and has made great strides in extracting concealed value from data. For eBay, a company with hundreds of millions of listings clogging up the platform, Expertmaker’s approach might be the ticket to achieving a more streamlined, categorized search. If we take anything away from this, it is that eBay search currently does not work very well. At any rate, they are taking steps to improve their platform.

Chelsea Kerwin, May 24, 2016

Sponsored by, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

Why the UK Shouldn’t Be Concerned About the Gobbling up of Their Tech Industry

May 5, 2016

The article on MotherBoard titled Why the US Is Buying Up So Many UK Artificial Intelligence Companies surveys the rising tech community in the UK. There is some concern about the recent trend in UK AI and machine learning startups being acquired by US giants (HP and Autonomy, Google and DeepMind, Microsoft and Swiftkey, and Apple and VocalIQ.) It makes sense in terms of the necessary investments and platforms needed to support cutting-edge AI which are not available in the UK, yet. The article explains,

“And as AI increasingly becomes core to many tech products, experts become a limited resource. “All of the big US companies are working on the subject and then looking at opportunities everywhere—“…

Many of the snapped-up UK firms are the fruits of research at Britain’s top universities—add to the list above Evi Technologies (Amazon), Dark Blue Labs (Google), Vision Factory (also Google) that are either directly spun out of Cambridge, Oxford, or University College London…”

The results of this may be more positive for the UK tech industry than it appears at first glance. There are some companies, like DeepMind, that demand to stay in the UK, and there are other industry players who will return to the UK to launch their own ventures after spending years absorbing and contributing to the most current technologies and advancements.


Chelsea Kerwin, May 5, 2016

Sponsored by, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph


Out of the Shadows and into the OpenBazaar

May 2, 2016

If you believe the Dark Web was destroyed when Silk Road went offline, think again!  The Dark Web has roots like a surface weed, when one root remains there are dozens (or in this case millions) more to keep the weed growing.  Tech Insider reports that OpenBazaar now occupies the space Silk Road vacated, “A Lawless And Shadowy New Corner Of The Internet Is About TO Go Online.”

OpenBazaar is described as a decentralized and uncensored online marketplace where people can sell anything without the fuzz breathing down their necks. Brian Hoffman and his crew had worked on it since 2014 when Amir Taaki thought it up.  It works similar to eBay and Etsy as a peer-to-peer market, but instead of hard currency it uses bitcoin.  Since it is decentralized, it will be near impossible to take offline, unlike Silk Road.  Hoffman took over the project from Taaki and after $1 million from tech venture capital firms the testnet is live.

“There’s now a functioning version of OpenBazaar running on the “testnet.” This is a kind of open beta that anyone can download and run, but it uses “testnet bitcoin” — a “fake” version of the digital currency for running tests that doesn’t have any real value. It means the developer team can test out the software with a larger audience and iron out the bugs without any real risk.” If people lose their money it’s just a horrible idea,” Hoffman told Business Insider.”

A new user signs up for the OpenBazaar testnet every two minutes and Hoffman hopes to find all the bugs before the public launch.  Hoffman once wanted to run the next generation digital black market, but now he is advertising it as a new Etsy.  The lack of central authority means lower take rates or the fees sellers incur for selling on the site.  Hoffman says it will be good competition for online marketplaces because it will force peer-to-peer services like eBay and Etsy find new ways to add value-added services instead of raising fees on customers.


Whitney Grace, May 2, 2016
Sponsored by, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

Celebros Launches Natural Language Processing Ecommerce Extension with Seven Conversions

March 9, 2016

An e-commerce site search company, Celebros, shared a news release touting their new product. Celebros, First to Launch Natural Language Site Search Extension for Magento 2.0 announces their Semantic Site Search extension for Magento 2.0. Magento 2.0 boasts the largest marketplace of e-commerce extensions in the world. This product, along with other Magento extensions, are designed to help online merchants expand their marketing and e-commerce capabilities. Celebros CMO and President of Global Sales Jeffrey Tower states,

“Celebros is proud to add the new Magento 2 extension to our existing and very successful Magento 1 extension. Celebros will offer the new extension free of charge to our entire Magento client base to ensure an easy, fast and pain-free upgrade while providing free integrations to new Celebros clients world-wide. The new extension encompasses our Natural Language Site Search in seven languages along with eight additional features that include our advanced auto-complete, guided navigation, dynamic landing pages and merchandising engine, product recommendations and more.”

For online retailers, extension products like Celebros may make or break the platforms like Magento 2.0, as these products are what add value and drive e-commerce technologies forward. It is intriguing that the Celebros natural language processing technology offers conversions available in seven languages. We live in an increasingly globalized world.


Megan Feil, March 9, 2016

Sponsored by, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

No Evidence That Terrorists Are Using Bitcoin

February 23, 2016

If you were concerned virtual currencies like Bitcoin are making things easier for Islamic State (aka IS, ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh), you can rest easy, at least for now. The International Business Times reports, “Isis: Bitcoin Not Used by Daesh.” That is the conclusion reached by a Europol investigation performed after last November’s attacks in Paris. Though some had suggested the terrorists were being funded with cyber money, investigators found no evidence of it.

On the other hand, the organization’s communication networks are thriving online through the Dark Web and a variety of apps. Writer Alistair Charlton tells us:

Better known by European law enforcement is how terrorists like IS use social media to communicate. The report says: “The internet and social media are used for communication and the acquisition of goods (weapons, fake IDs) and services, made relatively safe for terrorists with the availability of secure and inherently encrypted appliances, such as WhatsApp, Skype and Viber. In Facebook, VKA and Twitter they join closed and hidden groups that can be accessed by invitation only, and use coded language.”

se of Tor, the anonymising browser used to access the dark web where sites are hidden from search engines like Google, is also acknowledged by Europol. “The use of encryption and anonymising tools prevent conventional observation by security authorities. There is evidence of a level of technical knowledge available to religiously inspired terrorist groups, allowing them to make their use of the internet and social media invisible to intelligence and law enforcement agencies.”

Of course, like any valuable technology, anonymizing apps can be used for weal or woe; they benefit marginalized peoples trying to make their voices heard as much as they do terrorists. Besides, there is no going back to a disconnected world now. My question is whether terrorists have taken the suggestion, and are now working on a Bitcoin initiative. I suppose we will see, eventually.


Cynthia Murrell, February 23, 2016

Sponsored by, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

EasyAsk Unveils Mobile Shopping Solution Through Semantic Search

February 15, 2016

The announcement on PRWeb titled EasyAsk Introduces EasyAsk Voice Shopper Uniting Voice and Mobile for a Revolutionary Shopping Experience pairs shopping with semantic technology. According to the article, users will be able to hold a conversation with the EasyAsk search engine that will lead to the relevant and ideal product for the user. The article says,

“EasyAsk Voice Shopper creates a new paradigm for mobile shopping by allowing customers to have a conversation with a mobile commerce site or app, just like speaking with a sales associate. Having evolved from over 15 years of natural language research and development, the EasyAsk conversational search engine powers the conversation with the customer, combining an understanding of the shopper’s intent with the deep knowledge of retailer’s products and merchandising objectives to deliver the right products.”

The emphasis on mobile shopping is due to the research showing the low mobile shopping conversion rate of only 0.80%, most likely due to the pain-in-the-neck that is mobile shopping! Who hasn’t switched from their phone to their computer after clicking an email link for a cute pair of sneakers? In a perfect world, this new service would be like speaking to a real person. But unless I am mistaken, it will probably feel more like any number of voice menus that people find themselves shouting at to be understood.


Chelsea Kerwin, February 15, 2016

Sponsored by, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

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