The Stack Archive Feature

Confronting future data centre threats with artificial intelligence

Tue 23 May 2017 | Jules Trocchi

AI data centre

Jules Trocchi, CEO at Security Direction International Ltd, suggests the new weapons we will need in our future data centre cyber armoury…

In the early years of the 21st century, we are witnessing unprecedented levels of change bringing both exciting new opportunities and significant new challenges for our world. Accelerating globalisation, the pace of technological innovation, the information explosion, the rise of global terrorism and a raft of other major trends are simultaneously impacting us; while the planet is becoming more interconnected and increasingly interdependent every day.

The number of connected people, devices, systems and applications is mushrooming and with it, the amount of data of all types that must be collected, stored, analysed and acted on to enable our world to continue to function efficiently and safely. This, in turn, is leading to the need for more and more ‘smart’ technologies at all levels of society to assist governments, enterprises and individuals to manage this process effectively. For example, smart buildings, smart transport, smart energy, smart healthcare, etc.

The pace of change is about to speed up again exponentially with the widespread arrival of the Internet of Things. The full impact and implications of this new phenomenon for society can only be guessed at in this early stage, but one thing is for sure, data and data centres will be at the heart of everything.

What does the future hold?

The data centres of the future are likely to be significantly different from those of today. The volume, type, speed and value of the data will require constantly evolving IT systems to handle it. This means that data centre infrastructures must become increasingly virtual, dynamic, flexible, scalable, automated and organic to enable them to turn the wide range of raw data into actionable information.

This will be demanded by customers driven by the pace of global business innovation and the need for data centres to become profit-generators instead of cost centres. To achieve this, another crucial challenge is arising – securing these business-critical resources from the ever-growing range of daily threats.

Let’s look at what the data centres of the future must ideally become to meet the key needs of their customers. Firstly, they must be highly secure in both physical and cyber space and protected against the complete threat spectrum. They should also provide military-grade encryption and secure VPNs, be able to smoothly integrate legacy and new technology, and be equipped with multi-modal biometrics.

Innovative solutions are becoming available that not just level the playing field, but offer us a way to get ahead of the attackers

Other considerations should include artificial intelligence with continuous machine learning support, automation in remote locations, complete real-time cloud back-up at separate locations, a temporal focus, dynamic features and board-level participation.

This long list reflects the reality of the constantly evolving nature of the threats we will face in the future. The sources of these threats are continually multiplying (hostile governments, terrorists, criminals, hacktivists, etc.) and the type of threats is also changing, from digital weapons like Stuxnet to DDoS malware like Mirae.

The bad news is that the old model of cyber security defences aimed primarily at keeping intruders out (e.g. firewalls, perimeter protection, etc.) are increasingly unable to cope with the range and complexity of the threats. The good news is that innovative solutions are becoming available that not just level the playing field, but offer us a way to get ahead of the attackers for once.

A new generation

Thanks to unstinting efforts in countless research and development departments at our universities, institutions and enterprises, a new generation of security technologies is emerging that promises to make us proactive rather than reactive to threats as they arise. It is beyond the scope of this article to explore the details of these sophisticated advances, but they involve architectural and cognitive features that are both ground-breaking and revolutionary.

Machine learning adds an additional layer of high-speed adaptive defence to IT security environments

Let’s look at how just one of these new technologies can help to improve our current security – artificial intelligence. AI ‘bots’ can be trained in the normal behaviour of our network nodes, servers and users patrol systems 24/7, abnormal behaviour causes ‘antibody’ bots to automatically neutralise foreign antigens before they do any harm, and affected parts of the network are immediately quarantined to give human operators time to repair or replace them.

Machine learning adds an additional layer of high-speed adaptive defence to IT security environments, it also cuts response time to a fraction of what was previously possible, and acts at the speed of light!

This is just one of the new weapons in our future cyber armoury, there are also applications that cleverly camouflage key areas of our IT systems from predators, leading them to search fruitlessly for their prey. Other novel approaches involve systems that constantly mimic highly aggressive security environments, fooling attackers into remaining dormant forever. Still others protect networks by constantly changing their infrastructures, presenting a confusing, ever-moving target to invaders.

Finally, many of the new technologies are taking a leaf out of nature’s book by copying animal, vegetable and insect defence mechanisms (e.g. the human auto-immune system) that have enabled us to survive and evolve in the past and will come to our rescue again now and in the future.

Data centre security operations and management are migrating from static spatial concepts to self-organising temporal concepts, allowing us for the first time to have confidence in handling whatever the bad guys throw at us and the ability to confront future threats in real-time as soon as they arise.


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