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For threat actors, cyberinfrastructure is akin to a cash-filled vault – the head of IBM


For thousands of years, criminals were targeting most capital-rich ventures. Since billions of dollars lie behind cyberinfrastructure, there is no reason for a wave of cyberattacks to recede. Tech companies need to step up to combat intrusions, says IBM’s Arvind Krishna.

Cybercrime has been on the rise in the past years. Data analyzed by researchers at Atlas VPN show that worldwide, cybercrime cost over $1 trillion in 2020 alone. The growth of damages since 2013 has been staggering, with the volume of financial harm inflicted by criminals shooting up threefold.

While the number of attacks and the volume of damages is snowballing, only one in five companies have active response plans. Recent significant attacks, such as the recent one involving Texas-based software company Solarwinds, show a single breach can cause global cyber mayhem.

The CEO of IBM, Arvind Krishna, explained that nation-states and enterprises had experienced attacks for thousands of years. When the primary capital was land, people were fighting physical walls. When banks held most of the money, there was an increase in bank robberies, train robberies, and similar affairs.

“And so today, if our value lies in our cyberinfrastructure, you’re going to get cyberattacks. We have to step up what we do to protect ourselves against these attacks. The same way as natural defenses and policing and physical security helped in those previous errors,” he said last week on MIT Tech Review conference Future Compute.

We have to step up what we do to protect ourselves against these attacks. The same way as natural defenses and policing and physical security helped in those previous errors,

Arvind Krishna.

Krishna, who succeeded Ginni Rometty as IBM’s CEO last July, explained that companies would have to spend a lot of time and money to employ various techniques such as AI, quantum computing and encryption, and confidential computing to minimize the threat surface that bad actors can target.

Talking about IBM’s plans to become a leader in hybrid cloud supply, he said that to avoid attacks that resemble Solarwinds, tech companies need to leverage heterogeneity to reduce the probability of becoming a single point of failure.

“We can do the analogies to biology. If you didn’t generally have only one organism but one DNS system, it can get attacked by a certain, let’s say, a virus, so we can all get attacked by the same thing. If you have a lot of heterogeneity across species, then you tend not to have the same vector of attack for everyone,” Krishna said.

Limited movement of data

The CEO of IBM was confident that we would see an explosion in 5G-driven cloud computing over the next few years. With countries all over the world racing to increase coverage of the fifth-generation network, Krishna said, distributed cloud computing will take hold at an overwhelming level.

“I believe it is happening right now, and it’s been driven by 5G coming in because 5G is quite real, and it is here. Now, 5G is going to drive more edge computing than we are used to. You can use different words, “edge cloud,” “distributed cloud,” but 5G is going to drive that,” he said.

According to Krishna, another significant development in cloud services is related to security. Zero trust systems allow for confidential computing operations using encrypted data, which at least at the moment makes companies and individuals immune to certain cyberattacks.

Talking about what sort of regulatory environment lies ahead for data protection, Krishna said he doesn’t expect to have a global free movement of data. Quite the opposite: different nations and continents will take different approaches to data privacy.

“I do believe that different nations and different continents are going to take data protection very, very seriously. When you take data protection very seriously, you’re going to create regulations about where you store the data as well as how you process the data,” he said.

The CEO of IBM explained to the virtual audience that the tech industry should work with the authorities to help progress their needs.

AI in the spotlight

In 2011, IBM developed an artificial intelligence system called Watson that was meant to take part in the quiz show Jeopardy!, where the computer won against two of the show’s champions.

Describing the future of systems similar to Watson, Krishna pointed out that in the near future AI will be capable of replacing human workers by successfully answering up to 40 consecutive customer questions that people working in call centers deal with every day.

Therefore, the next logical step is for AI systems to master natural human language, autonomously interpreting words and making predictions. According to the IBM CEO, that would allow an AI to interpret the world and solve problems in unforeseen ways.

As AI gets better at recognizing patterns in language and nature, machines could replicate tasks completed by great scientists, who managed to see patterns in nature and discovered new laws of physics and the nature of reality.

“You’ve got to put in reasoning and knowledge representation together with what are the current AI techniques, and that will dramatically move the needle because you then allow prior learning to come into the systems. Not just brute-force pattern matching,” he said.

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