Autonomous Computer A Sign Of Pittsburgh’s Growth In Cyber Security Market

Sep 6, 2016

From the Target credit card breach to government hacks compromising the personal information of millions, cyber security is a growing issue.

It’s become a multi-billion dollar problem and consulting firm Juniper Research has estimated that the cost of data breaches will reach $2 trillion globally by 2019.

U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania David Hickton said overseas hackers infiltrating the American market could also impact jobs domestically.  

“What they’re stealing is the vital research and development that is done by our American companies that leads to new processes, new products and the jobs of tomorrow,” Hickton said.

But it can be very time consuming and expensive for corporations and governments to constantly search for exploitable holes in their systems. It’s also difficult to find qualified employees.

But David Brumley, CEO of ForAllSecure, has a possible solution: MAYHEM.  

His cyber security firm spun out of Carnegie Mellon University in 2012 and built the MAYHEM system, which hacks other computers and then defends itself.

“Some people have called it a cyber security artificial intelligence,” Brumely said.

MAYHEM is not just an application that runs on a company’s hardware, like other cyber security options, but a $600,000 computer.

“It draws power about the same as like a small city,” Brumley said. “It’s 17-kilowatt hours just to run. It has its own water cool system.”

MAYHEM is what is known as a “white hat” hacker. Where “black hat” hackers try to worm their way into computer systems to steal information or wreak havoc, “white hat” hackers have a very different focus.

“(A 'white hat' hacker is) someone who finds flaws in systems, with the idea that if we find them, then we can fix them,” Brumely said. “And if you don’t have someone who is actively looking for flaws, well, then only the bad guys can find them.”

Last month, MAYHEM won the DARPA-sponsored hacking competition Cyber Grand Challenge. It was created to help combat the growing risk associated with the explosion of internet-connected everyday-devices like refrigerators, lamps and thermostats.

ForAllSecure’s win is just another example of how Pittsburgh has grown as a tech leader, Brumley said, especially when it comes to cyber security.

“We have the most talent, we have start-ups that are literally winning the field against larger companies in defense contractors and really paving the way,” Brumley said. “Pittsburgh is really poised to become the center for cyber security.”

And Brumley said, with more than 100 university faculty in the region focused on cyber security, the talent pipeline is full of new graduates.

In this week’s Tech Headlines:

  • The University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown has landed $2 million in state funding to help build the school’s chemical engineering program. Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration said the expanded program is expected to produce an additional 125 graduates each year, including 40 chemical engineers. The goal is to help feed engineers into the petrochemical industry including the still-to-be-built Cracker Plant in Beaver County. State Representative Bryan Barbin said, “This is the most important economic development project in Cambria and Somerset Counties in many years.”
  • It seems those nice little comments people make on their friends’ Facebook posts can have a positive impact. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University say one-click feedback such as “likes” don’t have much impact on the poster’s feelings of well-being and satisfaction with life, but specific comments can be uplifting. The researchers found 60 comments from close friends in a month were associated with increases in users’ psychological well-being as large as those associated with major positive life events. The findings run counter to many previous studies based on user surveys, which often have shown that time spent on social media is associated with a greater likelihood of loneliness and depression. The study, published by the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, was based on 1,910 Facebook users from 91 countries who were recruited with Facebook ads. The National Science Foundation and Google supported the research.