Microsoft Partners Up for Smarter Security

May 13, 2021

I noted “Microsoft Partners with Darktrace to Help Customers Combat Cyber Threats with AI.” You may know that Microsoft has been the subject of some attention. No, I am not talking about Windows 10 updates which cause printers to become doorstops. Nope. I am not talking about the fate of a leaner, meaner version of Windows. Yep, I am making a reference to the SolarWinds’ misstep and the alleged manipulation of Microsoft Exchange Server to create a reprise of “waiting on line for fuel.” This was a popular side show in the Washington, DC, area in the mid-1970s.

How does Microsoft address its security PR challenge? There are white papers from Microsoft threat experts. There are meetings in DC ostensibly about JEDI but which may — just by happenstance — bring up the issue of security. No big deal, of course. And Microsoft forms new security-centric partnerships.

The partner mentioned in the write up is Darktrace. The company relies on technology somewhat related to the systems and methods packaged in the Autonomy content processing system. That technology included Bayesian methods, was at one time owned by Cambridge Neurodynamics, and licensed to Autonomy. (A summary of Autonomy is available at this link. The write up points out that Bayesian methods are centuries old and often criticized because humans have to set thresholds for some applications of the numerical recipes. Thus, outputs are not “objective” and can vary as the method iterates.) Darktrace’s origins are in Cambridge and some of the firm’s funding came from Michael Lynch-affiliated Invoke Capital. The firm’s Web page states:

Founded by celebrated technologist and entrepreneur, Dr Mike Lynch OBE, Invoke Capital founds, invests in and advises fast-growing fundamental technology companies in Europe. With deep expertise in identifying and commercializing artificial intelligence research and a close relationship with the University of Cambridge, Invoke exists to realize the commercial possibilities of Britain’s extraordinary science and deep technology base. Since 2012, Invoke has been instrumental in founding, creating and developing prominent technologies, and then finding the right teams to scale them into global businesses. Invoke’s companies include Darktrace, a world-leading cyber AI company that employs more than 1,500 people globally, Luminance, an award-winning machine learning platform for the legal industry, and AI fraud-detection engine, Featurespace. Invoke exited data-driven medicine experts, Sophia Genetics, in 2020.

{The Register provides a run down of some of the legal activity associated with Mr. Lynch at this link. )

The item presenting the tie up of Microsoft and Darktrace states:

Microsoft announced today a new partnership with Darktrace, a UK-based cyber security AI firm that works with customers to address threats using what it describes as “self-learning artificial intelligence”. Darktrace’s threat response system is designed to counter insider threats, espionage, supply chain attacks, phishing, and ransomware. The partnership between Microsoft and Darktrace is meant to give organizations an automated way of investigating threats across multiple platforms. Darktrace’s system works by learning the data within a specific environment as well as how users behave. The goal is to tell which activity is benign or malicious.

For more information about Darktrace, one can consult the firm’s Web site. For a different view, an entity with the handle OneWithCommonSense provides his/her assessment of the system. You can find that document (verified online on May 13, 2021) at this link.

Why is this interesting?

  1. The use of a system and method which may be related to how the Autonomy system operates may be an example how one mathematical method can be extended to a different suite of use cases; specifically, cyber security.
  2. The Darktrace disclosures about its technology make it clear that the technology is in the category of “artificial intelligence” or what I call smart software. Systems and methods which are more efficient, economical, and more effective are reasons why smart software is an important product category to watch.
  3. Darktrace (to my knowledge) may have the capability to recognize and issue an alert about SolarWinds-type incursions. Other cyber security firms’ smart software dropped the ball and many were blindsided by the subsequent Microsoft Exchange Server and shell exploits.

As a side note, Microsoft acquired the Fast Search & Transfer company after there were legal inquiries into the company. That was a company based in Norway. With the Darktrace deal, Microsoft is again looking offshore for solution to what on the surface seems to be the Achilles’ heel of the company’s product portfolio: Its operating system and related services.

Will Darktrace’s technology address the debilitating foot injury Microsoft has suffered? Worth watching because bad actors are having a field day with free ice cream as a result of the revelations related to Microsoft’s security engineering. Windows Defender may get an injection of a technology that caught Dr. Lynch’s eye. Quick is better in my opinion.

Stephen E Arnold, May 13, 2021

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