All posts by jessicaqiao2018

Artificial intelligence; its business usage, current landscape, road ahead

By Jessica Xieyang Qiao
Medill Reports

Artificial intelligence is coming into the mainstream. Still, a host of challenges remain.

On this episode of Medill Newsmakers, we talk to Chicago-based machine learning engineers and chief technology officers to explore key challenges and opportunities facing AI.

Photo at top: Machine learning-based techniques can be used to solve many real-world problems. (Xresch/Pixabay)

A mosquito can become a video game hero in Japan

By Jessica Xieyang Qiao
Medill Reports

A lone mosquito patrols the Yamada family to stock up on blood for the coming winter. You are Mister Mosquito, an uninvited guest who pesters the hapless Yamada family. They want you dead. You want to bite. The battle is on.

Quirky as it sounds, Mister Mosquito is a Japanese video game released by ZOOM Inc. in 2001. Unlike U.S. video games that depict  post-apocalyptic journeys or commando attacks, Mister Mosquito allows you to experience the hardship of a mosquito’s life.

“In Japanese video games, there are craftsmanship and culture that you don’t see in other countries,” said John Davis, co-founder of BitSummit, an annual Kyoto indie game festival. “Japan never shies away from having anime, strong female protagonists or other types of subjects in games. There has never been a cookie-cutter approach to game semantics.” Continue reading A mosquito can become a video game hero in Japan

New cyberattacks such as cryptojacking make past risks kids’ stuff

By Xieyang Jessica Qiao
Medill Reports

Blockchain, AI, IoT and a storm of new technologies are leading to greater operational efficiency and consumer opportunities, while triggering an increasing range of cyberattacks.

In the age of digital transformation, the best defense for users is to understand past breaches in order to maintain constant vigilance for future threats.

AI applications have made inroads in robotic process automation that allows users in all professions to extract key metadata from their text, including entities, relations, concepts and sentiments. This helps lawyers run a smarter practice, for instance.

“Process automation can extract basic entities from your contracts’ metadata across different repositories and move that metadata into a contract life cycle management system,” said Andrew Pery, consultant of ABBYY, a software company that offers AI-based solutions. “So you have a single point of resources from which you can manage the contract life cycle.”

More advanced instances of process automation focus on cognitive analytics. By using the neural network, natural language processing and semantic analysis, AI extracts meaning from legal documents and may even predict the outcome of a court case.

While high technology generates excited chatter with its wide-ranging applications, it also creates new security incidents that have become increasingly complex. Recent years saw the growth of malware attacks targeting AI-powered and IoT devices.

“Everything that is connected to the internet is potentially susceptible to data breaches, and getting attached to the internet can become in essence a risk factor,” said Tomas Suros, chief solutions architect of AbacusNext, a software and private cloud services provider. “We’ve seen attacks specific to those AI-powered or IoT devices. Malware may propagate through Alexa, Siri or anything that can be used to automate activities.”

Suros said 60 percent of small- and medium-sized businesses had been infected or had a data breach at one point. Within six months, 60 percent of them went out of business.

“The scope of malware attacks is increasing,” Suros said. “The damage to your business reputation, your inability to restore and the cost associated with recovery are devastating.”

While the sophistication of cyber crimes increases, its paradigm also shifts. A hacker breaks into your network to steal information or creates a virus to corrupt your network are now “ancient” models of cyberattacks. The new culprit is no longer smash-and-dash.

“Let’s say somebody inadvertently clicks on a link in an email,” Suros said. “The malware attack may not happen immediately. Instead, a bot is dropped on your network. It does password sniffing and siphons off that information in a way that is not immediately apparent. But the bot can penetrate your network and continue to do damage.”

There is also a nefarious nature to the way these innovative attacks are initiated, as they spike immediately before and after Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks.

“The goal is to find you in a weak moment when you’re busy or distracted and all it takes is one weak point in your network to initiate a deadly infection,” Suros said.

One type of malware is Trojan, which purports to be a legitimate software such as a browser or an add-on. When you install the software, however, Trojan drops malware on your system.

“After the infection starts, Trojan can identify an encrypted network drive even a couple of layers deep,” Suros said. “If you have data drives that create backups, Trojan can come in to create an infection and find those drives. Before initiating the attack, it actually has a map. This allows Trojan to hide its traps and potentially remove your ability to restore your backups of that data.”

Ransomware, a subset of malware programmed to encrypt data and block access to the computer network until money is paid, ramped up last year and is likely to rise even more in 2019.

“It comes in many shapes and sizes,” Suros said. “One of the newer variants is described as artisanal, meaning it’s designed to know its targets, what systems they’re using, and then deploy itself in ways that fool individuals by giving them information that seems familiar.”

Samsam, the ransomware used in targeted attacks, is responsible for the 2018 Atlanta cyberattack when one-third of the 424 software programs used by the city were thrown offline or partially disabled.

“Samsam doesn’t immediately start an attack,” Suros said. “It starts a scheme by recognizing the system and looking for vulnerabilities – the shortest path to a disruptive attack. It may install a crypto miner or a keystroke logger, which keeps records of every keystroke and sends them off as a file. People can deconstruct that and find your password.”

Then there’s cryptojacking – an emerging form of ransomware that may hide on your network to gain unauthorized use of your computer to mine cryptocurrency.

“It’s not encrypting your data or preventing you from using the system,” Suros said. “But it uses your resources, your central processing unit (CPU) cycles, your storage and your internet to create cryptocurrencies and send that to someone else who collects them.”

While cryptojacking malware doesn’t take all your data, it steals your resources, slows down your system and limits your security shields.

Last year also saw an upward trend in spear phishing and whaling attacks. While whaling attack is a more specific type of spear phishing that targets high-level executives, both are social engineering attacks that use psychological manipulation to trick users into revealing sensitive information.

“Spear phishing can identify your organization,” Suros said. “It may appear to come from HR, requesting you to update your password. You may receive an email from the IT department, asking you to do something and you will probably do it- thinking that the cause is to improve your technology and security.”

Suros said attacks cost businesses more than $75 billion per year- and it’s not just ransom that is paid. If individuals refuse to pay ransoms, they no longer have access to their servers or workstations.

“They are out of business until they can restore and recover,” Suros said. “There are 1.5 million phishing sites being created each month. This has become an industry and it will continue to grow this year.”

Photo at top: Recent years saw an increasing amount of advanced cyberattacks worldwide. (Miria Grunick/Flickr)

Most trendy 2018 technologies unveiled in Chicago and beyond

By Xieyang Jessica Qiao
Medill Reports

Today may be the slowest day you’re ever going to have during the rest of your life. The pace of change tomorrow will be faster than the pace today.

Chicago’s burgeoning VC opportunities and tech scene

An entrepreneurial spirit, fueled by investors who bet big on the city, is driving Chicago’s tech startup scene. According to the 2018 Chicago VC Ecosystem report, the city continues to outperform other U.S. venture ecosystems – including Silicon Valley – in terms of median multiple on invested capital (MOIC).

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Cyber insurance: Consumer friend or foe?

By Jessica Xieyang Qiao
Medill Reports

Warren Buffett is not eager for Berkshire Hathaway to be a pioneer in the “uncharted territory” of investing in cyber insurance.

Yet cyber insurance is growing and evolving rapidly in response to a surge in demand and an increasing level of cyber threats.

The total cybersecurity insurance market in the U.S. reached about $3.1 billion in 2017, a year-to-year increase of 29.5 percent compared to approximately $2.4 billion in 2016 and $1.4 billion in 2015, according to National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC)’s latest cyber report. Continue reading

Chicago hardened controls on cybersecurity with heightened concerns about electronic voting

By Jessica Xieyang Qiao
Medill Reports

Amid the ongoing 2019 mayoral elections and an increasing number of nationwide data breaches, Chicago beefed up cybersecurity controls to defend against potential voter fraud and hacking.

Yet, the cybersecurity environment remains flawed and technology challenges facing the government cast doubts on maintaining the reliability of electronic voting, according to cybersecurity experts.

The decentralized U.S. election landscape

The U.S. election ecosystem is distributed across states, counties and municipalities. Because each jurisdiction runs its own election and the environment is highly decentralized, there is luckily no single location through which a foreign hacker can attack the entire system. But damage can still be done.

“Hackers can change the attitude of people toward an election system. That’s what we need to protect ourselves against,” said Sujeet Shenoi, director of the Cyber Security Education Consortium,  during a panel discussion organized by Global Cyber Security Initiative (GCSI) on Feb.25. “But as far as technical hacking is concerned, it’s very hard to have a large-scale electoral change.”

Yet, because elections tend to be run at local levels, some jurisdictions may lack the technical expertise to defend against foreign hackers.

“It’s so decentralized – a lot of these jurisdictions are small and don’t even have an IT department,” said Kevin McDermott, chief technology officer of Cook County Clerk’s Office.

Toward that end, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funded grants last year for the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center to strengthen cyber threat prevention.

“In Illinois, we have the Cyber Navigator Program, which takes federal money to create a cybersecurity mechanism,” McDermott said. “There’s a great deal of energy at both local and national levels to build the infrastructure, both physical and information-wise, and to develop protocols for each organization.

This video, produced by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, was shown at the panel discussion.

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Japanese and Illinois companies connect for Industry 4.0

By Jessica Xieyang Qiao
Medill Reports

Japan, a hotbed of craftsmanship and innovation, is well equipped for the fourth industrial revolution as Japanese manufacturing companies leverage high technology to accelerate the delivery of industrial automation solutions.

Panasonic System Solutions Company of North America (PSSNA), a subsidiary of Panasonic Corporation, launched in April last year to kick-start factory automation via computer-integrated manufacturing software. Masakatsu Kaji, director of PSSNA, said recent years saw a shift in customer interest from technology to productivity.

“In 2006 and 2007, customers were looking for the technology –  how components could become smaller and smaller,” said Kaji at the  Connect & Create conference in Chicago on Tuesday. “In 2015 and 2016, customers began asking how to optimize the overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), how to optimize their assets and machines in the factory.”

The conference emphasized more partnerships and investment opportunities between Japanese and Illinois companies.

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Demystifying artificial intelligence, machine learning and deep learning

By Xieyang Jessica Qiao
Medill Reports

Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and deep learning (DL) – these buzzwords are used so interchangeably that they become fluid in interpretation. But while these emerging technologies are intertwined, they provide different levels of application.

DL is a subset of ML, and ML is a subset of AI, the umbrella term that is common to all three. In a diagram, AI is the biggest circle encapsulating ML and DL. But the progression toward smaller circles takes us to more sophisticated and brain-like systems of analyzing data and learning from it for new applications.

“Human intelligence exhibited by machines, that’s the formal definition of AI,” said Jason Mayes, senior creative engineer of Google. “Now, there are two types of AI: artificial general intelligence (AGI) and narrow AI.”

Hollywood movies such as “The Terminator” revel in the idea of AGI, where machines can successfully perform any intellectual task a human being can. While human beings might automate products and services in the future with AGI, we are now still in a phase called narrow AI.

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Break down silos to make Chicago an electric transit leader

By Xieyang Jessica Qiao
Medill Reports

As vehicle automation and electrification gain traction, they create a new mobility ecosystem for Chicago to tap into. Yet the city’s traditional residential infrastructure and limited connectivity could hinder Chicago and other metropolises in their ability to innovate.

Waymo, Google’s autonomous car subsidiary, announced last year they would purchase over 60,000 vehicles from Fiat Chrysler and 20,000 electric vehicles from Jaguar for the self-driving car fleet.

“According to Morgan Stanley’s estimate, the potential market cap of Waymo is $175 billion if they launch an initial public offering,” said Gary A. Silberg, the Americas head of automotive innovation at the audit firm KPMG. Continue reading

5G rollout brings to life the smart hospital

By Xieyang Jessica Qiao
Medill Reports

Chicago-based Rush University Medical Center partnered with AT&T to deploy a fifth-generation cellular network in hospital settings, capitalizing on 5G’s fast speeds to enhance access to care and improve efficiency.

5G is expected to operate in the millimeter wave band, which has a much higher frequency than current bands of spectrum, said Randall Berry, professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Northwestern University.

“The millimeter wave communication is going to be over shorter distances,” Berry said. “Instead of having a big base station that serves a large area, you might have what are called small cells, or smaller base stations that spread out over different areas.”

By tapping into the millimeter waves, 5G could bring better capacity and ultra-high speeds to wireless networks, while offering lower latency or delays, as low as 10 milliseconds round-trip, said Rod Cruz, AT&T’s general manager of healthcare industry solutions.

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