The Race to Cyberdefense, Artificial Intelligence and the Quantum Computer

The power grid, oil and gas, and even existing telecoms are perfect targets for funding and development of these technologies.

by / August 8, 2017

I've been following cybersecurity startups and hackers for years, and I suddenly discovered how hackers are always ahead of the rest of us — they have a better business model funding them in their proof of concept (POC) stage of development.

To even begin protecting ourselves from their well-funded advances and attacks, cyberdefense and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies must be funded at the same level in the POC stage.

Today, however, traditional investors not only want your technology running, they also need assurances that you already have a revenue stream — which stifles potential new technology discovery at the POC level. And in some industries, this is dangerous.

Consider the fast-paced world of cybersecurity, in which companies are offered traditional funding avenues as they promote their product's tech capabilities so people will invest. This promotion and disclosure of their technology, however, gives hackers a road map to the new cyberdefense technologies and a window of time to gain knowledge on how to exploit them.

This same road map exists for technologies covered in detail when standard groups, universities, governments and private labs publish white papers — documents that essentially assist hackers by giving them advanced notice of cyberdefense techniques.

In addition to this, some hackers receive immediate funding through nation states that are coordinating cyberwarfare like the traditional military and others are involved in organized secret groups that fund the use of ransomware and DDoS attacks. These hackers get immediate funding and then throw their technology on the Internet for POC discovery.

How Not to Do Cyberdefense

One project that strongly makes a case for rapidly funding cyberdefense technologies in an effort to keep up with hackers is the $5.7 billion U.S. Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) EINSTEIN cyberdefense system, which was deemed obsolete upon its deployment for failing to detect 94 percent of security vulnerabilities. As this situation illustrates, the traditional methods of funding cyberdefense — taking years of bureaucratic analysis and vendor contracts — does not work in the fast technology discovery world of cyberdefense. After the EINSTEIN project failure, DHS decided to conduct an assessment — it's currently working to understand if it's making the right investments in dealing with the ever-changing cyberenvironment.

But it also has other roadblocks, as even large technology companies and contractors with which DHS does business have their own bureaucracies and investments that ultimately deter the department from getting the best in cyberdefense technologies. And once universities, standards groups, regulation and funding approvals are added to these processes, you're pretty much assured to be headed for another disaster.

But DHS doesn’t need to develop these technologies itself. The department needs to support public- and private-sector POCs to rapidly mature and deploy new cyberdefense technologies. This suggestion is supported by what other countries are successfully doing — including our adversaries.

Making the Case for POC Funding

The same two things that have motivated mankind all through history — immediate power and money — are now motivating hackers, and cyberdefense technologies are taking years to be deployed. So I'll say it again: The motivational and funding model of cyberdefense technologies must change. The key to successful cyberdefense technology development is making it as aggressive as the hackers that attack it. And this needs to be done at the conceptual POC level.

The concern in cyberdefense (and really all AI) is the race to the quantum computer.

Quantum computer technologies can’t be hacked, and in theory, its processing power can break all encryption. The computational physics behind the quantum also offer remarkable capabilities that will drastically change all current AI and cyberdefense technologies. This is a winner-takes-all technology that offers capability with absolute security capabilities — capabilities that we can now only imagine.

Barriers to Cyberdefense POC Funding in the U.S.

The most recent funding source for hackers is Bitcoin, which uses the decentralized and secure blockchain technology. It has even been used to support POC funding in what is called an Initial Coin Offering (ICO), the intent of which is to crowdfund early startup companies at the development or POC level by bypassing traditional and lengthy funding avenues. Because this type of startup seed offering has been clouded with scams, it is now in regulatory limbo.

Some states have passed laws that make it difficult to legally present and offer an ICO. While the U.S. seems to be pushing ICO regulation, other countries are still deciding what to do. But like ICOs or not, they offer first-time startups an avenue of fast-track funding at the concept level — where engineers and scientists can jump on newer technologies by focusing seed money on testing their concepts. Bogging ICOs down with regulatory laws will both slow down legitimate POC innovation in the U.S. and give other countries a competitive edge.

Another barrier to cyberdefense POC funding is the size and technological control of a handful of tech companies. Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple have become enormous concentrations of wealth and data, drawing the attention of economists and academics who warn they're growing too powerful. Now as big as major American cities, these companies are mega centers of both money and technology. They are so large and control so much of the market that many are beginning to view them as in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. So how can small startups compete with these tech giants and potentially fund POCs in areas such as cyberdefense and AI? By aligning with giant companies in industries that have the most need for cyberdefense and AI technologies: critical infrastructure.

Big Competition from Big Players

The industries that are most vulnerable and could cause the most devastation if hacked are those involved in critical infrastructure. These large industries have the resources to fund cyberdefense technologies at the concept level — and they would obtain superior cyberdefense technologies in doing so.

Cyberattacks to critical infrastructure could devastate entire country economies and must be protected by the most advanced cyberdefense. Quantum computing and artificial intelligence will initiate game-changing technology in both cyberdefense and the new intellectual property deriving from quantum sciences. Entering these new technologies at the POC level is like being a Microsoft or Google years ago. Funding the development of these new technologies in cyberdefense and AI are needed soon — but what about today?

Future quantum computer capabilities will also demand immediate short-term fixes in current cyberdefense and AI. New quantum-ready compressed encryption and cyberdefense deep learning AI must be funded and tested now at the concept level. The power grid, oil and gas, and even existing telecoms are perfect targets for this funding and development. Investing today would offer current cyberdefense and business intelligence protection while creating new profit centers in the licensing and sale of these leading-edge technologies. This is true for many other industries, all differing in their approach and requiring specialized cyberdefense capabilities and new intelligence gathering that will shape their future.

So we must find creative ways of rapidly funding cyberdefense technologies at the conceptual level. If this is what hackers do and it's why they're always one step ahead, shouldn't we work to surpass them?

Larry Karisny

Larry Karisny is the director of Project, an advisor, consultant, speaker and writer supporting advanced cybersecurity technologies in both the public and private sectors.