Crowdsourcing to fight hackers

With threats coming from all angles, the world of cybersecurity is slowly turning to new and distributed ways of preventing attacks from hackers and fixing software vulnerabilities. While many technology companies have offered bounties to researchers who find exploits in their software, Mark Jaster, founder of 418 Intelligence, has developed a system that goes even further to enlist help in collective thinking.

ABERMAN: Let’s start with what 418’s doing. Crowdsourcing, cybersecurity, explain that to me.

JASTER: We’ll call it, actually, expert sourcing. Let’s call it that, because our model is to identify the experts that are the rank and file, the everyday. They might be beginning at the job of intelligence and security analysis, they might be an analyst in a security operations center. And what we’re doing is, providing a platform for them to collectively address questions of attacks, is there an attack on a network, for detection purposes, and for forensics, and response planning purposes. And we do that in a platform that was actually developed by the intelligence community a couple years ago, under the office of the Director of National Intelligence.

So, the theme of your program is what’s working in Washington: this is truly a successful spin-out of an intelligence community project that ran four years, and experimented with the idea of, can we use a simulated market, what’s called a prediction market in the vernacular, to assess intelligence questions? And through a four year program, it was successfully proven that that’s a very good way to collect information from distributed experts, kind of enforcing some diversity.

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And it’s a different way to do analysis and intelligence assessment than the deliberative process, which is sort of endemic of what happens in cybersecurity today. Inside of a security operations center, a SOC, or maybe a decision-making room that’ll analyze these events. What we’re proposing is, let’s break them out of that world, let’s give them a way to participate in analyzing this kind of information off of a feed that’s coming to them, that allows them to exercise their knowledge, their expertise, after hours. Sort of a cyber-lancer model.

ABERMAN: So, what’s in it for the participant? Why would they do this if they’ve already got a job?

JASTER: Well, there’s a couple reasons. One, t’s just like the same phenomenon that’s happened in open-source software. Experts want to work with other experts. And so, they want that reputation, they want the benefit of exchanging what they know with peers, or maybe above them, and they want to be able to do it without the judgement of their workplace. So, one reason is to have a collaborative experience with others, to learn, to get better, and to gain a reputation.

Two other good reasons, though: one is the thrill of the hunt, the idea that hackers come to that avocation, if you want to call it that, because two reasons: primarily though, they start because there’s something in it that’s a challenge, and they want to see if they can do it. So, we’re offering that same kind of benefit, that motivation, to a defender, to go get a skin, find the attacker on the network, and post that on your wall. So, if you can imagine having a trophy case—

ABERMAN: It’s like the cyber-Olympics.

JASTER: Yeah, it is. It’s that, plus it’s also the remuneration of an economic benefit.

ABERMAN: Let’s switch now to the challenge: you and I have spoken about this, the way you describe it is that there’s a lot of people that are looking for this silver bullet, and it’s frustrating if you’re a entrepreneur, doing something that’s different, like you’re doing. What do you mean by investors looking for the silver bullet, and how are you addressing that problem?

JASTER: Well, what I mean by that is, most business cases, and most, especially early stage operations that are looking for investment, have a very narrow gap that they have to jump through, because the investor is looking to create some reference point. And I call it the silver syndrome, because they always really think what they’re looking for as an investor is that silver bullet that has some magical property, that’s going to fix a big problem. That’s what they think they want, and we face that every day, because our business is kind of the opposite of that.

We’re not proposing to really be a silver bullet. We’re proposing to be something of a business model more like Uber. Who would have invested in Uber, because it was proposing to crowdsource or hire out part time taxi drivers, in a sense? That was not a very appealing value proposition to most VCs. You had to look past it to understand what the real opportunity of disrupting that entire economic volume, that flow was, to get to the point where there was something very important there, in terms of of how work is changing, how organizations are changing. In the case of Uber, it was how transportation is changing. We see ourselves in a very similar vein.

So, coming to the table with a proposition that has so many different moving parts, and getting that communicated clearly, concisely, to an investor, has been very challenging. And so, I do think of it oftentimes as looking to find the difference between a change agent, or a silver bullet investor. When I find a change agent who really sees that they want to invest in the next big thing, then I’ve got a conversation I can have. Most most investor conversations I have are the other type, though. And that’s hard.

ABERMAN: And I think that’s true, frankly, for most entrepreneurs that I know. Last thing: I love your company name. Could you give us a quick history of where your name, 418, came from?

JASTER: 418, it’s a date, because dates are so important to us, and the date that everybody has seared in their memory right now is 9/11. And 9/11 was an example of an intelligence disappointment, let’s say. And so, I was looking for a date that could contrast, and make that date a positive intelligence outcome. We looked, and found the date of April 18th, 1775, and that was the date that Paul Revere had the two lanterns placed in the Old North Church to warn the Patriots that an attack was going to be coming not by land, but by water. And it created the shot heard ‘round the world. It changed the course of history, in our case for the better. And what we were looking for was a date that would combine that positive outcome, with intelligence, and with crowdsourcing. That’s sort of what we are.

ABERMAN: 418 Intelligence. Mark Jaster, thanks for joining us today.

JASTER: Thank you very much, John.