President's speech fuels speculation of early LS elections

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NEW DELHI: President Ram Nath Kovind‘s pitch for simultaneous Lok Sabha and assembly polls in his address to the joint sitting of Parliament on Monday — a subject repeatedly raised by PM Narendra Modi — rekindled speculation of the 2019 elections being brought forward to align with the assembly polls due in end-2018.

In his first address to Parliament, Kovind argued that frequent polls hurt the economy by imposing a huge burden on human resources while the ‘model code of conduct’ impeded development activities. The address, which is written by the government, said a “sustained debate is required on the subject of simultaneous elections and all political parties need to arrive at a consensus on this issue”.

The buzz was reinforced later on Monday at a meeting of NDA leaders where Modi reiterated the point, saying leaders could start debating the matter and create a positive atmosphere for the proposal. As he has done before, the PM emphasised the need for holding polls together, saying a continuous cycle of elections hurt development and was a huge financial burden.

While Modi has often advocated simultaneous polls, the opposition led by Congress has been cold to the idea so far. In fact, when the Election Commission chose to delink the polls in Himachal Pradesh from Gujarat, Congress leaders questioned how it squared with Modi’s push for simultaneous polls. The opposition has been wary of simultaneous polls, suspecting that this might be a ploy to mask the incumbency of BJP governments in major states like Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh, which are due for polls at the end of the year by subsuming state issues with a larger national referendum on the Modi sarkar.

As things stand, simultaneous polls are unlikely for political reasons as well as the different terms in office of various state governments. But BJP does have the option of bringing forward the Lok Sabha elections to coincide with polls in the three north Indian states. Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha go to polls along with the Lok Sabha elections and these could be curtailed by a few months if the incumbent parties agree to such a proposal.

After the PM made a fresh push for simultaneous polls recently, newly appointed chief election commissioner O P Rawat said creating a “legal framework” to facilitate national and state polls together would take a lot of time. He underlined that it would also require a constitutional amendment.

Flagging the triple talaq bill at the very start of his address, Kovind said, “For decades, dignity of Muslim women has remained captive to political cost-benefit” and added that it was time for their emancipation. The President introduced government schemes for welfare of minorities as “empowerment and not appeasement”.

Detailing various central schemes and their results as aimed at creating a “New India”, Kovind said attaining the goals by 2022, the 75th year of independence, would fulfil the dreams of the founding fathers. “Dream of a new India does not belong to one political party or organisation. It is an embodiment of the aspirations and expectations of 130 crore countrymen,” he added.

Among those present in Central Hall of Parliament were PM Modi, Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu, BJP chief Amit Shah and veteran L K Advani, besides Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. Kovind said internal security situation had improved and termed the terror attacks in the interiors of Jammu and Kashmir as “directly related to cross-border infiltration”.

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Security Think Tank: Humans and AI machines in harmony

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The drive for automation is clear. In many walks of life, we are building systems that can take on activities humans would traditionally undertake, but where the labour/resource cost is a challenge. In cyber security, automation and artificial intelligence (AI) can really help by enabling the processing, analysis, data gathering and automation of tasks, so that software does the leg-work and takes on the onerous workloads, leaving skilled security professionals to see the outputs and make decisions.

For example, AI could anticipate questions that a human might ask such as:

  • Has this malware detected been seen on any other systems?
  • Have there been any suspicious flows of data?
  • What else has this user done, accessed or connected to?

In addition, AI systems could take alerts or reports from detection systems and corroborate them to remove false positives, freeing up the team that has to respond, so they can focus on real issues rather than background noise. This is a major benefit. If you think about what takes the time, a large part is the raw volume of “things” that need to be ruled in or ruled out as issues.

The other advantage is that you gain certainty, repeatability and trust in the outputs of systems by having the ability to reinforce human operators and skilled personnel with automated systems and intelligence.

The security team can provide a more robust and responsive service to the business. For example, it would be brave to allow a system to take autonomous actions in response to a given alert if you were on average only 80% sure it was a valid issue. You would want to spend time looking at each case to decide whether to act.

However, if you can raise the certainty to 99%, you could configure an automated/AI driven response to all but the most borderline cases. This enables better use of skills to help alleviate the skills and resource shortage and give security teams a more interesting day job – solving problems that rely on expertise rather than trying to fish through a swamp of data trying to find answers.

Automation is inevitable

You can conclude that automation and the wider use of AI is inevitable and will likely find traction in the execution and ownership of specific tasks. As such, it is likely to be part of the cyber defence armoury companies use to detect and respond to threats.

However, the applications are likely to be specific and aimed at reducing workload, data gathering and analysis overhead and investigative processes. While this will attenuate the growing need for skilled resources and make them more efficient, it will not remove the need for people or solve the problem of the availability of key skills.

As a final point, automation, AI, machine learning etc., are techniques also used by attackers to craft, design and execute attacks or phases of their reconnaissance and lateral movement. This means that the threat landscape once again changes and the challenges bounce back to new levels.

Hence, as with any tools, techniques or processes, it is important to make sure it is viewed in the wider context and understood as a benefit to defenders as well as the threats it poses in the hands of attackers.

The question of how we harness automation and AI is a very timely and pertinent one. As director of the institute of information security professionals (IISP), we are trying to drive up the number of available, certified, trustworthy, skilled resources in cyber security, while security suppliers are delivering technologies and systems to detect, verify, triage and manage threats in real-time. The answer lies in make sure these two goals are aligned.

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