By Nathan Self, Research Associate, Department of Computer Science, and faculty at Discovery Analytics Center, Virginia Tech. Self will be participating on the Opportunities, Challenges and Future Trends in Advanced Analytics panel at the second annual Capital Data Summit on Feb. 28, 2018.

VT DAC 2Imagine your biggest spreadsheet. Too many rows and columns to take in at once. At the Discovery Analytics Center (DAC) at Virginia Tech we are interested in how humans and machines can work together to make sense out of all that data. Andromeda is an example of how analysts can combine sophisticated machine learning algorithms with interactive visualization to get insights from their data.

Let’s assume that your enormous spreadsheet has a row for every customer and a column for every statistic you keep about each customer. Andromeda draws a scatterplot in which each point represents a customer. Points that are close to each other represent rows that are similar to each other. Likewise, distant points represent dissimilar rows. To begin with, Andromeda assumes that each column is equally important.

This is where the human aspect comes in. You know what the data actually represents and you can interact with Andromeda in two ways. You can either (1) change the importance of a column. The points of the scatterplot will regroup to preserve the “near is similar” constraint. Or, (2) you can reach right into the scatterplot and move points closer or farther from each other and Andromeda will compute which columns have to be important for them to be considered similar.

Andromeda, with new algorithms and new paradigms of user-algorithm interaction,  serves as a good example that complex statistical methods do not necessitate complex user interfaces or expert users. The selling point of Andromeda is that you don’t have to know that Andromeda uses an algorithm called weighted multidimensional scaling to lay out the scatterplot. You don’t have to know that data scientists at DAC developed inverse multidimensional scaling to handle interacting with the points. In fact, users have effectively generated insights despite having no experience with these, or similar, algorithms. And, their insights are more complex than when they use spreadsheets alone.

There are countless pivotal statistical processes that are well-suited and useful for current data analysis needs. Any of these would be well-served by intuitive interfaces for people that are not experts in statistics.

There is an adage that the same statistics can be used to justify either side of an argument. Machine learning has the same malleability. Understanding exactly what a machine learning tool like Andromeda can do for you — as well as its limitations — is important for deciding what to do with its outputs.

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NVTC’s newest infographic provides a snapshot of NVTC members’ data analytics hiring and resource allocation trends, regional funding and national demand for skilled analytics talent.

Data analytics continues to grow in our region and the country at large, evidenced by increased demand for talent, funding and the growing applicability from IT to finance to non-traditional sectors such as sports – just ask baseball fans what they think about any given player and it won’t be long before someone starts citing “Wins Above Replacement (WAR)” statistics, a non-standardized advanced analytics sabermetric statistic, as a way to justify their view of a player’s value and impact. Adoption across the IT sector is approaching omnipresence, with 87 percent of telecommunications firms and 76 percent of financial services firms reporting adoption of big data analytics according to the 2017 Big Data Analytics Market Study.

2018 Data Analytics Infographic

Demand for the Analytics Workforce Grows

In a January 2018 survey, 55 percent of NVTC members reported hiring data analytics positions over the next 12 months. Given the demand for qualified analytics talent across the country, it won’t be an easy task for most local tech employers. For the third year in a row, Glassdoor ranks Data Scientist as the hottest job across all sectors, not just IT. Analytics Manager also broke the top 20 list, coming in at number 19. All told, data analytics positions had four slots in the top 50, with Data Engineer ranking 33rd and Data Analyst ranking 38th.

Diverse NVTC Member Focus on Analytics

In the January 2018 survey mentioned above, 59 percent of NVTC members indicated they are pursuing the use of analytics in cybersecurity.  Data visualization and cluster computing/big data are also attracting a lot of attention across the NVTC member base, with 54 percent of survey respondents indicating they are exploring those focus areas. Other analytics specialties with significant NVTC member interest include data integration (51 percent adoption), artificial intelligence/machine learning/deep learning (46 percent adoption), and blockchain and Internet of Things applications (both at 41 percent adoption).

Growth in Analytics Market & Solutions Funding

Greater Washington businesses with analytics-supported products and services netted over $446 million in funding in 2017. The single largest deal was $80 million for DC-based Afiniti, a developer that uses AI to pair customers with employees based on behavior, while the average funding amount was $8.6 million. This massive amount of funding makes sense given that the market for big data-driven security is expected to grow to $11 billion by 2020, with homeland security and public safety organizations driving adoption of solutions are taking advantage of the abundance of data produced from smartphones, computers, IoT devices and other data sources, which indicates that NVTC members are ahead of the curve in their focus on developing analytics-based cybersecurity solutions.

With increased data analytics adoption both inside and outside of traditional IT sectors, it seems as though the primary limiting factor for this sector will be a lack of qualified talent, and the safe bet seems to be that Data Scientist will remain one of the hottest jobs for the foreseeable future.

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The chip vulnerabilities announced two weeks ago affect almost every single PC, Mac, laptop, tablet, and smartphone created in the last 20 years. Passwords, personal information and any secure information on a device are at risk.

LMILogoHow It Works
This malware affects the “kernel” or core of the operating system, which acts as a bridge between the hardware and software of a machine. The core handles everything from typing and clicking to opening and running applications like web browsers and Microsoft Outlook. The core provides each process with the resources it needs to function and keeps the processes isolated.

When exploited, this security flaw allows an attacker to subvert this isolation and read all of the protected data on a computer. These data could include anything from passwords to personally identifiable information from your tax program. These attacks can be especially damaging for cloud services because they run shared setups where users share hardware but are isolated by software. By hacking one user’s cloud instance, hackers can use these security flaws to see all the data on the shared hardware. Fortunately, the security flaw is difficult to exploit, and attackers must compromise a machine before they can exploit these chip vulnerabilities.

Cyber security concept.What’s Being Done?
Companies like Intel, Apple, Google, and Microsoft have released patches to defend against these security flaws. The patches further isolate the core’s memory but may degrade performance by as much as 30 percent. Most vendors report that general computer users will not see such a large decrease in performance.

LMI is implementing a remediation plan to patch all vulnerable systems. We will test the patches against a pilot group of machines before releasing them to the rest of the organizational ecosystem. This will allow our team to identify and address potential issues with the patches to maintain LMI operations as the patches are implemented.

To protect your personal systems, install patches and operating system updates as soon as they are released, and make sure your web browsers are up to date. Most browsers automatically update, but it is beneficial to verify that they have been patched.

Looking Ahead
As an organization directly involved in the cyber space, LMI is aware that security flaws and exploits will continue to be a concern. This specific cyber scare is far less concerning than the number of security vulnerabilities we saw in 2017. We expect to see even more vulnerabilities in 2018 because of the evolving nature of hackers and the spread of far-reaching security flaws. Our team will continue to adapt to the ever-changing cyber threat landscape as threat actors change their tools and techniques.


Jonathan Stammler is the Information Security Manager for the Enterprise Technology Services group at LMI. He received an MS in information security from Georgia Institute of Technology and a BS in information technology from George Mason University. If you’d like more information on how LMI can assist your organization with its cybersecurity needs, please email Jonathan.

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