Israeli cyber-security firm gets GE award for Internet technology

ThetaRay to help protect data being processed on General Electric’s cloud platform, Predix

ThetaRay's Tel Aviv offices (Photo credit: Courtesy)
ThetaRay's Tel Aviv offices (Photo credit: Courtesy)

GE (General Electric) is getting into the cloud business – and it’s taking Israeli cyber-security firm ThetaRay along with it.

After investing along with several partners $10 million in ThetaRay last year, GE presented the company at its recent Minds and Machines Conference in San Francisco with its Industrial Innovation Award for offering the “Most Innovative Industrial Internet Technology.”

The ThetaRay technology, said GE, will be used in its big data platform for industrial and business cloud development, called Predix.

According to Mark Gazit, CEO of ThetaRay, “our relationship with GE will make it possible for many more industrial companies to benefit from our groundbreaking solution. We are honored to receive this award, and proud to be part of the Predix ecosystem.”

GE’s Predix platform offers companies apps that allow them to process cloud-based data to analyze information, helping them use big data to save money and time. Financial news site The Street quoted Bill Ruh, GE’s vice president of global software, as saying at a June conference that GE intends to be a “next-generation industrial company that is going to have as a core competency” the ability to meld the physical and digital worlds.

With its data analysis apps, Predix will help companies analyze specific cohorts of data to do things like providing data to allow wind farm operators to adjust turbines in real time to change the curvature of a blade or make other alterations, allowing a more efficient operation and producing more power, the site quoted Ruh as saying.

When big data meets the cloud, hackers generally aren’t too far behind. It’s much easier for them to get to data that is transmitted to a public cloud than it is to get to that data when it is on a local server, behind a firewall – even when there are substantial defenses in the cloud server. In 2011, for example, hackers were said to have used an account on an Amazon cloud server to steal data from Sony, and in 2014, photos, many of them of celebrities in various stages of undress, were posted on a hacking site after being poached from online accounts on Apple’s iCloud servers (Apple claimed that it was the accounts that were hacked, not the servers).

In any event, ThetaRay’s technology comes in handy for cloud sites seeking to protect their clients. “Hackers are always looking for backdoors,” said Gazit. “They penetrate systems using various methods, like spear-phishing schemes,” in which hackers search for a weak link, matching an email message with a potential victim who is vulnerable to threats, rewards, fear or other psychological tactics to get the victim to click on a link or open a document that will install malware giving them access to data.

“Once they penetrate a system they can put any kind of malware they want into it, turning it into their own little ‘playground,’ installing anything they want. Meanwhile, information continues to flow through the system, and it’s all exposed to hackers’ whims.”

ThetaRay CEO Mark Gazit (Photo credit: Courtesy)
ThetaRay CEO Mark Gazit (Courtesy)

The best way to deal with the threat, said Gazit, was to look at the overall picture in a system, and try to figure out what “doesn’t look right. Our system checks for anomalies both inside and outside a network, evaluating what would be considered ‘normal’ in an organization and what would be anomalous.”

Anomalies could include increased activity inside a network, or greater than usual requests for communication resources outside a network. Those anomalies, for example, showed up on systems that were plagued with the Stuxnet virus, which wreaked havoc with Iranian centrifuges even as it indicated, on screen, that everything was running smoothly, said Gazit.

To arrive at its conclusions, ThetaRay examines lots of data – “the more the better.

“We check for anomalies in the huge amount of data we process, looking for patterns of activity that should not be there,” said Gazit. Data is taken from all input sources — email, web connection data, log files, sensors, cameras and microphones, etc — comparing the activity with expected patterns, with the models, said Gazit, developed over a period of seven years by top graduates of the IDF’s security tech Unit 8200 group, and top professors from Tel Aviv University and Yale University.

ThetaRay was one of only four companies to be honored with Industrial Innovation Awards, alongside PepsiCo, Pitney Bowes, and Salt River Project. The “Most Innovative Industrial Internet Technology” award was designed to highlight a company or offering that significantly advances the Industrial Internet, GE said.

“The success of the Industrial Internet depends on a collaborative ecosystem,” said Harel Kodesh, vice president, Predix, and CTO, GE Digital. “With Predix, GE is driving digital innovation across the industrial world-working with companies like ThetaRay helping advance this mission. We consider its technology a valuable component of the Predix microservice catalog that is helping our customers achieve better outcomes.”

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