IBM’s Mary O’Brien: ‘AI will impact the war on cybercrime’

30 Mar 2018

Mary O’Brien, vice-president of development, IBM Security. Image: Luke Maxwell

IBM Security’s Mary O’Brien believes that a shortage of skilled security professionals will make the need for AI more pressing.

Mary O’Brien is the vice-president of development for IBM Security. She leads a global team of 2,000 research and development professionals focused on delivering IBM’s extensive security product portfolio.

O’Brien’s mission is to incubate new ideas while partnering with IBM research to study and understand the evolution of technology and the ever-changing threat landscape. Her organisation provides the solutions that protect industries, businesses and consumers alike from today’s emerging risks and vulnerabilities.

‘It is reckoned that there will be in the region of 1.2m unfilled cybersecurity roles by 2020’

Future Human

She spends her days making sure that research, proofs of concepts and thought leadership evolve into viable products. In charge of progressing IBM’s security portfolio, she examines which incubators have the potential for success and align with IBM’s strategy, and then manages and tracks those products all the way through to delivery and support in the field.

A lifelong engineer, O’Brien earned her bachelor’s in engineering from Dublin City University and her career started at a semiconductor manufacturer in the UK. In 1994, she joined the Motorola GSM systems division and developed her skills within the sphere of telco products.

O’Brien moved to IBM in 2007 working in the Tivoli organisation. She then joined IBM Security as the director of infrastructure and X-Force, based out of Atlanta, and her portfolio grew over the following years.

What are some of the main responsibilities of your own role and the work that your group at IBM Security does?

I am responsible for leading a team that develops all of IBM Security’s products. We take innovations and ideas from incubation all the way through to product development, to delivering products to the field and the support of them.

What impact do you believe artificial intelligence (AI) will have on cybersecurity?

I think AI is going to make a huge impact in the war on cybercrime because there is a huge shortage of skilled security professionals in the world right now. It is reckoned that there will be in the region of 1.2m unfilled cybersecurity roles by 2020.

With the use of machine as the assistant to the human cybersecurity analyst, it will make it possible to keep up with the rate and pace of cybercrime.

How can organisations leverage AI across all aspects of security?

Well, I reckon that organisations need to infuse AI and machine-learning capabilities throughout the whole security ecosystem. They need to look at all of the major defences they have against cybercrime and look for opportunities to infuse those defences.

Do you believe that GDPR’s scope is wide enough to include the kinds of responsibilities that an AI-centric data economy could entail?

I do. I think that GDPR is all about the data – personal, identifiable data that has been held and stored and could be used for malicious purposes.

It is about cleansing age-old repositories of that data and it is about cleansing repositories that could be created in the future, and making sure that kind of data is not stored.

Absolutely, I think it is totally appropriate and the scope of it is totally appropriate to an AI-centric economy.

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years