Big data for better cyber security

J.R. Rao leads the Security Research team at IBM, which analyses how to prevent new threats and stay ahead of cyber criminals.

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J.R. Rao leads the Security Research team at IBM, which analyses how to prevent new threats and stay ahead of cyber criminals.


J.R. Rao studied Computer Science before the Internet even existed. At the start of his career, Rao evaluated the behaviour of complex systems and large data masses such as those used by American Airlines for their ticket bookings. This interest in data would accompany him from the beginning of his career to when he became director of Security Research at IBM, a role that he performs today, and from where he studies the application of big data to new cyber security challenges.

Currently, Rao and his team apply big data techniques to cyber security to better guard against new threats. “Techniques such as anti-virus software and firewalls have become outdated“, explains Rao, adding: “It is important to offer new mechanisms that provide a better overview of all the activity that affects companies”.

In the 1980s, Rao left his native India to study for a PhD in Computer Science at the University of Austin, Texas (USA).  Immediately afterwards, he began working for IBM carrying out cryptographic analyses of SIM cards and developing new solutions to better protect these devices. “It was the first time that we had built an empirical discipline in security, based on physical security and using the power of cryptography and engineering to create really secure systems”, explains Rao.

The problem that security departments at companies like IBM face today is that each advancement and development in new platforms leads to previously unknown security risks. For example, Rao refers to new cognitive businesses, those that are based on large databases and cross-referencing information from different sources. With these businesses have emerged new vulnerabilities that must be attacked in a different way. In addition, they involve the added risk that they are often using sensitive data like genetic information or a person’s healthcare details.

Rao’s approach is based on combining all the available data and applying a layer of cognitive technology in order to learn from the possible threats. In this way, the technology will be able to digest, learn and reason when faced with large volumes of data. Thanks to this analysis, cyber security professionals will find it easier to cope with threats and criminals, and it will be more difficult to attack companies.

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