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What is machine learning?

You’ve probably heard the term “machine learning” coming up more and more often. It’s an exciting #technology that will surely bring a whole host of useful #innovations in all fields, and that includes #cybersecurity, such as #malware detection and such.

What’s the difference between artificial intelligence and machine learning? Put simply, artificial intelligence is the area of study dedicated to making machines solve problems that humans find easy, but digital computers find hard. Examples include driving cars, playing chess or recognising sarcasm.

Machine learning is a subset of AI dedicated to developing techniques for making machines learn to solve these and other “human” problems without the insanely complex task of explicitly programming them.

Classifying malware
A machine is said to learn if, with increasing experience, it gets better at solving a problem. Let’s take identifying malware as an example. This is known as a classification problem. Let’s also call into existence a theoretical machine learning program called Mavis. Consistent malware classification is difficult for Mavis because it is deliberately evasive and subtle.

Training a machine to learn about malware
A major problem for developers lies in proving that their implementation of Mavis intelligently detects unknown malware. How much training is enough? What happens when their Mavis encounters a completely new threat that smells clean? Do we need a second, signature-based system until we’re 100% certain it’s getting it right every time? Some vendors prefer a layered approach, while others go all in with their version of Mavis.

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