Daily Tech Digest - May 29, 2021

TSA’s pipeline cybersecurity directive is just a first step experts say

This new regulation requires that designated pipeline security companies report cybersecurity incidents to the DHS's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) no later than 12 hours after a cybersecurity incident is identified. The TSA estimates that about 100 companies in the US would fall under the directive's mandates. Pipeline owners and operators must also designate a cybersecurity coordinator who is required to be available to TSA and CISA 24/7 to coordinate cybersecurity practices and address any incidents that arise. Finally, pipeline owners and operators must "review their current activities against TSA's recommendations for pipeline cybersecurity to assess cyber risks, identify any gaps, develop remediation measures, and report the results to TSA and CISA." Although not appearing anywhere in the directive, pipeline companies that fail to meet the security requirements would be subject to financial fines, starting at $7,000 per day, government officials say. ... In its press release announcing the directive, the TSA said "it is also considering follow-on mandatory measures that will further support the pipeline industry in enhancing its cybersecurity and that strengthen the public-private partnership so critical to the cybersecurity of our homeland."

The Limits to Blockchain Scalability

There are two ways to try to scale a blockchain: fundamental technical improvements, and simply increasing the parameters. ... Unfortunately, there are many subtle reasons why this approach is fundamentally flawed. Computers running blockchain nodes cannot spend 100% of CPU power validating the chain; they need a large safety margin to resist unexpected DoS attacks, they need spare capacity for tasks like processing transactions in the mempool, and you don't want running a node on a computer to make that computer unusable for any other applications at the same time. Bandwidth similarly has overhead: a 10 MB/s connection does NOT mean you can have a 10 megabyte block every second! A 1-5 megabyte block every 12 seconds, maybe. And it is the same with storage. Increasing hardware requirements for running a node and limiting node-running to specialized actors is not a solution. For a blockchain to be decentralized, it's crucially important for regular users to be able to run a node, and to have a culture where running nodes is a common activity.

Telcos back Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things for 5G in India

The drivers that may trigger IoT applications, according to him, include low cost of storage and computing data on the cloud platform, emerging edge computing trends, falling costs of data, sensors, devices, and availability of mobile app development platforms. Following the Covid-19 pandemic, IoT is expected to drive significant transformation in the healthcare sector. "Hospital drug and waste management, robotic surgery, real-time health monitoring and diagnostics via IoT will stand to witness increased adoption." Bharti Airtel is working with the Swedish gear maker Ericsson on aerial drones for security and surveillance purposes, and dropping of relief material in emergency situations. Billionaire Mukesh Ambani-owned Reliance Jio together with Korean Samsung Networks has been working on virtual classrooms, and previously demonstrated high-definition content streaming. Kochhar feels that bringing futuristic technologies such as AR and VR to classrooms may redefine education and skilling of students. "AR and VR require higher bandwidth, lower latency and network resiliency. ..." 

Implementing a digital transformation at industrial companies

Before pursuing digital opportunities, leaders must first develop and align on a digital vision for their organization, looking at both the overall digital strategy and value proposition for their companies. They should begin by assessing their capabilities, estimating the resources required, and contemplating potential partnerships that could help them achieve their goals. Other practical issues include the feasibility of the proposed initiatives and their potential value. The basic question underlying all strategic plans is this: How can digital help us transform core business processes or generate new opportunities? When developing the road map, industrial companies should consider the strategic implications for the incumbent business, including disruptions to any offline distribution channels as digital sales grow. Companies should also address the inevitable channel conflicts in the strategic road map by acknowledging the risks, evaluating the potential impact, and creating a path forward to mitigate any issues. For instance, companies should determine what roles they expect the distributors to play with the new digital channels. Some may decide to eliminate distributors and conduct all business through e-commerce while others may keep offline and online channels. 

Can You Build a Machine Learning Model to Monitor Another Model?

Can you train a machine learning model to predict your model’s mistakes? Nothing stops you from trying. But chances are, you are better off without it. We’ve seen this idea suggested more than once. It sounds reasonable on the surface. Machine learning models make mistakes. Let us take these mistakes and train another model to predict the missteps of the first one! Sort of a “trust detector,” based on learnings from how our model did in the past. ... In regression problems, sometimes you can build a “watchdog” model. This happens when your original model optimizes the prediction error, taking into account its sign. If the second “watchdog” model is predicting an absolute error instead, it might get something more out of the dataset. But here is a thing: if it works, this does not tell that the model is “wrong” or how to correct it. Instead, it is an indirect way to evaluate the uncertainty of data inputs. (Here is a whole paper that explores this in detail). In practice, this returns us to the same alternative solution. Instead of training the second model, let’s check if the input data belongs to the same distributions!

4 robotic process automation project fails to avoid

Many organizations select "low-hanging-fruit" RPA initiatives without a true analysis of their workflows and how those affect other processes. Most businesses are stumped by a deceptively simple question: Which are the right processes for automation? Determining where to start with your RPA program is critical to success. Using advanced process mining and discovery tools to do a thorough analysis of your business processes will give you a "digital twin" of how they currently work and let you know which are best suited for digital transformation. ... RPA on its own cannot understand unstructured documents, so you need AI-enabled bots with content intelligence. In this way, bots can carry out tasks such as reading a document; categorizing, routing, extracting, and validating data from it; and doing other tasks related to understanding and processing unstructured content. Using content intelligence with RPA can speed your processes and ready your organization to add more experiential opportunities to engage with customers via interactive mobile apps, cognitive virtual assistants that combine voice and conversational AI, and chatbots.

Blue Prism 7 shifts focus from RPA to programmable digital workers

“Scaling intelligent automation within the cloud and enabling increased demand will be the ultimate differentiator in a year of significant growth for the market,” Blue Prism CEO and chair Jason Kingdon told VentureBeat. While other RPA vendors have aimed to improve the technical characteristics of RPA infrastructure, Blue Prism has focused on improving the programmability, manageability, and integration of RPA infrastructure. Technical infrastructure efforts are important, as RPA’s original focus on making it easier to simulate user interaction with applications often incurred infrastructure scaling liabilities. Focus is shifting, however, as the major RPA vendors explore different approaches to scaling people’s ability to quickly create new automations with appropriate guardrails. That is key to Blue Prism’s recent efforts. A pointed criticism of traditional approaches to RPA — despite what the name implies — has centered around their focus on automating tasks rather than processes. “We looked at how to automate the process of programming not just tasks, but an entire digital workforce end-to-end, and that guided our redesign of Blue Prism’s platform for V7,” Kingdon said.

SolarWinds hackers resurface to attack government agencies and think tanks

The group behind the infamous SolarWinds hacks is on another cyberattack spree, this time targeting not just government agencies but others as well. In a report published Thursday, Microsoft revealed that the threat actor Nobelium launched a series of attacks this past week against government agencies, think tanks, consultants, and non-governmental organizations. More than 25% of the victims were involved in international development, humanitarian and human rights work, according to Microsoft. Affecting more than 150 different organizations, the attacks targeted 3,000 separate email accounts. Many of the attacks were blocked automatically by security software, with Microsoft's Windows Defender catching the malware used to try to compromise the organizations. Identifying the culprit as Nobelium, Microsoft pointed out that this is the same group behind the SolarWinds hack in 2020. Those attacks, which exploited a security hole in a SolarWinds monitoring tool, hit different government agencies and were deemed to be sponsored by Russia. Microsoft called the latest incident a continuation of different information gathering efforts by Nobelium to target government agencies involved in foreign policy.

Surviving Automation: It's Now Coming for White-Collar Workers

Adapting and expanding one’s skillset is one tactic for avoiding redundancy via automation. “Seek out any training available, either internally — many firms provide internal training — or via well-regarded sites such as Coursera, Data Camp, etc.,” Coker of the University of Westminster suggested. Pay attention to news and developments in your field, he said, and keep your own skills up to date accordingly. Also, the tools that allow automation to happen must be created, Edge pointed out. That involves software developers, coders, UI/UX professionals, yes — but it also requires expertise from those with deep experience in a given field. One of the best ways of surviving automation in your field is to find a way to get in front of the people designing automation software in order to help them do their jobs better, Edge said. “That requires a little understanding of how software works — but more importantly, to move into those product design roles, we need to think more deeply about what we do and why.” Additionally, as companies invest more in digital transformation, there will be increased demand for professionals with experience in what that looks like in their particular industries.

Building a better you

A healthy dose of common sense — and humanity — helps when making changes. Grit and persistence only go so far. Milkman advises that “when you keep hitting a wall on a particular goal, it’s time to step back, reassess, and think about the bigger picture instead of making yourself miserable.” Don’t overengineer the solutions, either. For example, although we know that forming stable routines is key to habit formation, you must build in sufficient buffers for life events or hiccups that may make it difficult to follow your plan. Otherwise, you’ll end up disappointed and less likely to sustain your new behaviors. In one experiment, those who were rewarded for exercising on a more flexible schedule kept working out a lot more at other times, too — not only at the time they’d said was most convenient. In this instance, a more flexible approach wound up embedding a new behavior. The others, who had agreed to exercise at a fixed time and day, Milkman writes, transformed from “Routine Rachels” into “Rigid Rachels.” That is, when events made it impossible to exercise at the regular time, they didn’t compensate by exercising at other times.

Quote for the day:

"People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision." -- John C. Maxwell

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