The Problem with AI and ML today

I have to admit, that I’m not an expert in AI or machine learning (ML) but I think that I understand it on a certain high level good enough. In the end I did some work in BigData, Hadoop and have been reading on AI and ML quite a bit already. And since the start I had this uncertain feeling, that the current state of AI even with deep learning is not really intelligent. Yes it seems to work to a certain level, you see this with the current progress with automated driving or also with use cases in IIoT like visual inspection or material checks that are based on AI models and deep learning. 

But what always struck me, is that the system that does all great functionality is really dump and it has no idea what it has learned. Nobody can look at the “mental” model of the AI model and explain why it can detect an object or recognise a pattern. It just works based on pure data. That is exactly this, AI today works on detecting something interesting just based on the input data it has been trained with. 

So a couple of weeks ago I bought a book as I stumbled over it on Amazon. This week I started reading “The book of Why” from Judea Pearl and Dana Mackenzie. The book is about the theory of causal relations and the need for causation in artificial intelligence.

Already the first chapter struck me like a lightening bolt. Judea explained exactly what I always felt, that the current AI is level 1 of the ladder of causation. Level 1 means that learning is based on associations that are found in the data by the algorithm.  The mechanism for this is in the end statistics, probability, that’s all.

The Book of Why: The new science of cause and effect | @TAragonMD

Associations are detected in the data because the AI model has been trained with some similar pattern and when it sees it again it can detect it. But the pattern needs to be at least similar to something learned, that is why it is so important to have good and tons of training data. If there is a completely new pattern in the data that the algorithm hasn’t learned yet, it cannot detect it. That is why the intelligence of such an algorithm is on the level of an animal but any small child with 3 years is more intelligent. 

And worst, the model doesn’t really know what it has learned, the representation is just factors in e.g. a neural network. There is really no knowledge representation as such.

Now I do have since quite some time one topic that is always in my focus and that is semantic web technology and the way how knowledge can be represented in a knowledge graph and how to work with that in real-world technology. Before in the space of IT management, now in the area of IIoT.

Now and here is the point that struck me like a hit with a lamp post. On the one hand there is the classical AI technology with the ability to automatically learn and detect patterns. On the other hand there is semantic technology with its semantic data models and query mechanisms on a formal machine readable knowledge representations. 

And the difference to the next level 2 in Judea’s ladder of causation is exactly that one has a causal model not just data. The causal model is represented as a directed graph of causal relations with numerical factors on the edges.

Book review: The Book of Why: The New Science of Cause and Effect (Judea  Pearl, Dana Mackenzie) – Clear Language, Clear Mind

Now that sounds very familiar to me, that is easy to represent as a semantic graph in RDF or OWL! Causal relations represented as relations in a semantic model as one of the most important relations. 

Technically there are of course a couple of questions practically how an AI ML model can work with a semantic graph model. Probably one needs to transform the knowledge graph into a ANN first. It would be interesting to speak with an AI expert on this.

I would even go so far as to it would be a benefit to represent learned associations in such a model as well. Knowledge is in the end different types, there is fact knowledge, rules, causal relations, associations and other relations, that are not causal. If we represent all these in a semantic model, we come closer to how we see the human brain. Because as human beings we do record these relations as well and we are aware of them, we can search and access them, just like a knowledge graph!

Maybe this is in the end the way how we can bring computers to at least level two of the ladder of causation and doing this also for our applications in IIoT.


The Practice of Network Security Monitoring

The second book from Richard Bejtlich in short time: “The Practice of Network Security Monitoring” has been read. This one is a bit newer, though not totally up to date, from 2014. The practical part of the book is based on the Security Onion (SO) distribution. Unfortunately a lot has happened with SO in the mean time. The book is still based on ELSA as part of SO, which has been swapped with the Elastic stack in the meantime. So the installation part could be skipped, also due to the fact, that I have already several times performed a SO installation at home. 

Just as with the TAO of network security monitoring book a lot of space is dedicated to various, in the mean time, well-known sniffing tools such as Wireshark, Bro, Argus, Sguil, Squert, Snorby etc. Nevertheless in the last third these tools are used for various real-life scenarios such as binary extraction with Bro, detecting server- and client-side intrusions, that were especially helpful. 

Security Onion is definitively the first choice for a real NSM with Sguil as real-time NSM console. For a home NSM a more historic Elastic stack-based NSM will probably be more useful, as I will not constantly monitor a NSM console all day long :-). The problem is a bit that SO is a big system, unfortunately a bit too heavy for the old laptop that I can dedicate to the NSM server part at the moment. Therefore I switched to SELKS, also a NSM distribution from Status Networks, also based on Elastic stack but a bit more light-weight. ELSA, based on syslog-ng doesn’t fit well anymore when you would like to use filebeat/packetbeat as logfile shipper. 

The TAO of Network Security Monitoring

Wow, that was a thick book, the Tao of Network Security Monitoring, beyond intrusion detection from the guru of NSM, Richard Bejtlich. This book is considered the bible of NSM. The book is from 2004 and thus a bit out of date, especially as it is filled with tons and tons of tool, one will find that some of these do not yet exist anymore or development has stopped years ago. But the intention of the book is not to serve as a tool reference but to show which tools are available and what they can be used for. So the brain needs to translate the samples to what tools we have today available. And anyhow in each category we still have enough candidates.

The story line of the book is basically along the different types of network security monitoring data that one can capture along with the tools that provide it:

  • full content data (packet capture, e.g. from tcpdump, wireshark)
  • Packet headers
  • Session or flow data (e.g. from Argus, flow-tools)
  • Alert data (e.g. from Bro)
  • Statistic data

Bejtlich explains the use of these types of data and the corresponding tools using real-life samples of attacks. This is cool, although following the packet dumps without in-depth protocol knowledge of IP, UDP, TCP, DNS etc. is really a bit hard. Luckily he explains it after the printed dump, so one can be a bit lazy. Probably that is not a good idea, as one missing some learning, but that would probably require a second round of reading.

But the real learning from this book is understanding what a well-configured NSM system and especially stored session data can really give you to detect all kinds of attacks, if you just watch closely enough. The interesting question for me still to answer is how can I transfer this knowledge to cloud-based NSM, where we have some packet capture abilities but all the rest of the tools, how to make use of them in such an environment is left as an exercise. 

Summary: definitively worth a read, although it could get an update once a while.

IoT Hackers Handbook

Somewhere, I don’t know where, I was getting aware of the book “IoT Hackers Handbook” from Aditya Gupta. Well, bought it, read it. That wasn’t quite a long job as the font size is a bit larger than normal. There are two reasons you do this, either you want to avoid that older reader need their glasses (me?) or there’s not too much content but you still want to make it look like a in-depth book on the topic.

It was indeed a bit different than expected. Not bad, but different, which also tells you something. I’m a software guy, looking into hardware-near topics like BLE sniffing is interesting but not my homeland, so to say. But this book really started with hardware hacking after some introductory chapter on penetration testing IoT devices. I mean UART communication, JTAG debugging. Then it went slowly up in direction software, via firmware hacking, mobile apps (Android), software define radio (SDR) to Zigbee and BLE sniffing and packet resend. It didn’t get higher than this. That’s ok, as there had been topic, I hadn’t touched so far except for BLE sniffing. Especially the SDR part was quite interesting and encouraged my to maybe dig a bit into this topic. Understanding the communication of garage door openers etc. sounds interesting over all.

Don’t get me wrong, for consumer IoT devices, this is all important stuff to understand, test and hack. But IoT is a bit more than hardware, firmware and communication, at least in my mind. IoT lives from software, and not just hardware-near software. That is what brings the value and the new business models for IoT. Sure the book touched mobile apps as important part of a IoT solution but there is all the cloud connectivity and the software stack on the IoT device that I find the interesting part. And that was not covered beyond ZigBee and BLE. So not bad and helpful but surprising regarding the direction of what IoT pentesting should be like and maybe telling something about how IoT is regarded still today. 

To be fair, the book did dig into some use-cases of what you could do when having access to the device and being able to manipulate it at will, which wasn’t really difficult with the examples provided by the author. Weather stations, door openers, garage openers, the usual smart light bulb and beacons. I learned still a lot about tools and techniques for these low-end IoT devices and how easy it is to break them with just a little bit of knowing some tools and reading specifications. And unfortunately you can transfer this experience to more complex “IoT” devices like PLCs in IIoT or gateways. Just the specifications are a bit thicker and complex. But the door is equally wide open for white as well as black hats. 

Modsecurity Handbook

Modsecurity (from SpiderLabs) is probably the best known open-source web application firewall (WAF) originally (and still is) a module from the Apache web server. But in the mean time it is also available as module for Nginx (nginx-modsecurity) and IIS and other integrations. I came into contact with modsecurity in the context with Nginx.

The second important project in conjunction with modsecurity is the OWASP core rule set (CRS) a set of modsecurity rules for a WAF. You meet these two in many unexpected places, e.g. the Azure application gateway is based on Nginx with the CRS. Or the Kubernetes ingress controller is an Nginx with CRS and modsecurity WAF module included.

This is why I recently bought the book “Modsecurity Handbook” from Feisty Duck and the authors Christian Felini and Ivan Ristić (see

This is really “THE” book on modsecurity from its authors, the bible to to say and goes into the depth of writing rules youself. It is not an explanation of the CRS, for this there no books, you have to read the rules in the github repository. This book does prepare you to do this, something that look daunting at first when you ever looked at the CRS ruleset without preparation.

That is probably one of the most important learnings one gets from the book, because I don’t know yet, whether I will write my own modsecurity rulesets myself. Although the second interesting insight were the use cases that you could cover with a WAF. The book has a long chapter on this topic and delves into detailed implementation ideas on use cases such as

  • IP address tracking and blacklisting
  • Session tracking, blocking, forced renegotiation and restricting session lifetime as well as detecting session hijacking (a well-known attack technique)
  • Brute force attack detection
  • Denial of service (DoS) detection
  • Periodic security testing and alerting
  • User tracking
  • Whitelisting of application operations
  • File inspection
  • Dynamic patching of application vulnerabilities or for exploits

The idea that nginx logs are an important source for security and audit logs for a SIEM is certainly not surprising. But being able to actively detect during runtime certain vulnerabilities and constantly reporting them as security alert is interesting. Think about missing security headers or wrongly configured content security policies (CSP) in HTTP. Instead of detecting it during vulnerability assessments or penetration tests, such inspection can happen during operations and thus provide a 100% coverage of all operations.

Also having a tool to quickly mitigate a vulnerability before the development team can come up with a fix and new release for a backend sounds interesting. You can even inject content into a response, e.g. Javascript. I just have some doubts about the complexity to introduce new rules and such mitigations quickly in environments where modsecurity and CRS are realistically found these days, such as Kubernetes ingress or WAF. An Azure application gateway for example does not expose the full functionality of modsecurity directly but hides most juwels under some own configuration portal.

At the end the book contains an extensive reference part with explanation of all the directives, variables, operators and actions of the modsecurity rule language. This way the book serves well when you need to actually develop rules in practice beyond what the Internet provides as reference resources.

Creating your own rulesets has its quite hard complexities in my opinion, but it is a tool in your defensive toolset. At least using the CRS with a WAF out-of-the box with just slight tuning, such as disabling rules that produce false positive or unneeded rulesets should be possible. That is anyhow the only thing that environments such as Azure application gateway allow you to do. Going beyond that needs a good reason. The disadvantage is really that such configuration is decoupled from the protected service or application and if we can fix a vulnerability there quickly it certainly is the preferable option before we turn to using custom modsecurity rules. In times of continuous deployment that should be fast enough to avoid dynamic patching. For old applications where there is no team anymore maintaining security or that has half-year release cycles this is still a valid option in the security control portfolio.

I’m curious if I will finally use it one time or not.

Yours, Peter

Produkte digital-first denken

Barbara Hoisl, ist eine freiberufliche Business- und Strategieberaterin und eine lang-jährige Freundin aus alten Zeiten, als ich bei Hewlett-Packard (HP Openview Software, ein Bereich, den es in dieser Form nicht mehr gibt) gearbeitet hatte.  Barbara ist eine, nun ja visionäre, Expertin für Software-Produktmanagement, Finanzierung von Startups und den Software-Business. Ich hatte die positive Erfahrung Barbara früher bei HP eine kurze Zeit als Chefin zu haben. 

Letztes Jahr hat Barbara doch tatsächlich ein eigenes Buch geschrieben, “Produkte digital-first denken“, auf Deutsch. Ich schätze mich glücklich zu denjenigen zu gehören, die Anfang des Jahres eine (kostenlose) Ausgabe ihres neuen Buches bekommen hat. Daher wollte ich hier darüber berichten, wie das Buch geworden ist und was ich daraus gelernt habe.

Erst ist man irritiert, muss man ein deutsches Buch über das Thema Digitalisierung schreiben? Aber ich habe auch in der Arbeit schon öfter festgestellt, man vergisst schnell, dass ich Jahre-lang bei einer amerikanischen Firma gearbeitet habe und die Verwendung von English als Umgangssprache für mich zur Selbstverständlichkeit geworden ist, aber für doch noch viele, die nicht aus der Softwarebranche kommen eher noch ein Problem darstellt. Und ihr Buch wendet sich ganz klar an deutsche mittelständige Unternehmen, wo Deutsch doch noch die Fachsprache darstellt. Bis vor wenigen Jahren war das bei meinem Arbeitgeber (Bosch) auch noch der Fall.

Das ist auch schon einer der interessanten Punkte, warum dieses Buch eine Lücke im Portfolio der Bücher über Digitalisierung darstellt, es ist wirklich für den Personenkreis geschrieben, der die Digitalisierung und die Einführung von Softwareprodukten, IoT und IIoT durchführen muss um fit für die Zukunft zu werden. Und den Zielgruppen-gerechten Schreibstiel hat Barbara auf faszinierende Weise getroffen. Da sind auf der einen Seite doch die vielen anglophilen Ausdrücke, die für uns Softwerker so selbstverständlich sind, für das Zielpublikum aber hole Phrasen darstellen. Aber hinter den “Phrasen” stecken eben wesentliche Konzepte der Softwarewelt, welche die heute großen IT-Player (GAFA = Google Apple Facebook Amazon) eben erfolgreich gemacht haben und die ohne eine Anpassung der etablierten Produktionsfirmen in Deutschland in Zukunft auch deren Geschäft gefährden werden. Das heisst, wenn sie eben nicht die Digitalisierung und die Einführung von Softwareprodukten ernst nehmen.

Und genau das erklärt Barbara in verständlichen Worten, erklärt die Sätze wie “Software is eating the world”, “Winner takes it all” Effekt in Platform-Geschäftsmodellen, “Think big, smart small” und “Sell the future” Strategie. Interessant ist dabei, dass ich, der sich auch schon intensiv mit Software-Platform Geschäftsmodellen auseinandergesetzt habe und der all diese Prinzipien der Softwarewelt als gegeben und als klar versteht, dabei immer noch etwas lernen kann. Man wird sich über die Unterschiede zwischen den deutschen erfolgreichen Produktionsunternehmen und den (meist amerikanischen) IT-Unternehmen noch klarer und erkennt den Handlungsbedarf Produkte digital neu zu erschaffen.

Bosch ist eine solches Unternehmen, mit hunderten Produktionswerken und unglaublichem Wissen über Fertigung und Logistik und ein Unternehmen, dass sich ganz klar auf den Weg zum Software-Unternehmen befindet. Mein Geschäftsbereich “Bosch Connected Industry” ist an vorderster Front mit dabei. Aber ich habe auch schon, auf Messen oder in Gesprächen, bemerkt, dass dies durchaus nicht für die Masse der kleineren mittelständischen Unternehmen, insb. in Baden-Württemberg gilt. Dabei gibt es hier viele heutige Weltmarktführer in hunderten technischen Nischenmärkten. Und genau diese muss das Wissen über die wirkliche, Buzzword-erklärte Bedeutung erreichen. Barbara’s Buch ist einzigartig darin, genau das hoffentlich erreichen zu können.

Was mich dabei fasziniert hat ist, durch die Darstellung im Buch wieder klar zu werden, wie wichtig dabei die richtige Denkweise (“Digital Mindset”) zu bekommen (zu erlernen?). Zu verstehen wie die neuen großen innovativen IT-Player denken gegenüber den traditionellen etablierten aber langsamen Unternehmen. Barbara erklärt dabei viele Modelle, wie den Produkt-Lifecycle, Moore’s Law und exponentielles Wachstum, 3 Horizonte der Innovation, Innovator’s Dilemma, 10 Types of Innovation, 6D-Modell. Die beiden letzen waren z.B. auch für mich neu und ich habe mir gleich die dazugehörende Literatur besorgt.

Das schöne an ihrem Buch ist, dass sie die abstrakten Modell immer mit praktischen Beispiele aus B2B und B2C Märkten erklärt. Bosch Software Innovations (mein erster GB bei Bosch) kommt übrigens auch darin vor (sic!). Lieblingsbeispiel Tesla, wo es für mich auch noch etwas zu lernen gab. 

Schliesslich gibt sie auch noch einige Empfehlungen am Ende des Buchs wie man die Transition zu einem Unternehmen, das “digital-first” denkt organisieren sollte. Nicht, dass jedes Unternehmen das so angehen würde und man sieht die Probleme, die dadurch in der Umsetzung entstehen im eigenen Unternehmensbereich. Alles in allem eine bereicherndes Buch, dass ich jedem der im IIoT Bereich unterwegs sind oder sein sollten, und das sind eben alle traditionellen Produktionsunternehmen, wärmstens and Herz legen kann. 

Viele interessante Erkenntnisse beim Lesen!


Bulletproof SSL and TLS

As I’m currently involved with lots of openssl automation at work, I bought the book “Bulletproof SSL and TLS” from Ivan Ristić. See the book’s site at Attention, it looks like on Amazon there is only the 2014 edition available, while on Ivan’s blog (, which I found out after the purchase of course, there is a 2017 version mentioned. Nevertheless that the book edition I read was a bit dated, I learned a lot, despite having been engaged with openssl before. 

It is a difference being able to generate and sign some certificates and knowing the history, the vulnerabilities and mechanisms of the protocol itself. This book is definitively the “bible” of TLS from the founder of the (Qualys) SSL Labs with the famous SSL server test tool (btw. also available as standalone tool: ssllabs-scan on github). So there is quite some expertise and mastership behind this book.

What can one learn from the book? Well first a thorough basis and the insight, or maybe reminder, that TLS is not just encryption but also certificate-based authentication and provides integrity and session management. So it’s a bundle of security functionality that can be used not only for HTTPS but also any other protocol that you can run over TCP. There are many articles about TLS port forwarding, but with the book, I have finally gotten the differences. 

There is by the way also a github repository to the book that contains among other resources configuration files for setting up a own root CA for self-signed certificates. That being a task that I’m just involved in and this thus very handy to verify my configuration taken from other sources in the web. Clearly for public customer or browser-facing endpoints one will always have to use purchased certificates from a public CA. But in the innards of a system, behind a reverse proxy or from the application backend to a infrastructure service, such as RabbitMQ or a DB, self-signed certificates, well-configured, serve well their purpose. And you save money and have the full control over expiration time and what not.

Especially interesting for were the details on OSCP and OSCP stapling and all the other initiatives that there are. Certainly a topic that one would like to explore at work for getting an additional grain of security into especially cloud-hosted services. Another concept that was covered were the different ways of pinning and what it really means. It is not so a sophisticated concept that nobody uses, anyhow. 

What I found especially helpful were, beyond some openssl command-line examples also a in-depth chapter on configuring Nginx with TLS, something that I happen to just do at the moment at work, too. What a coincidence. That adds well to the Nginx TLS documentation, which is more reference than tutorial. Especially the securing of a down-stream connection to backend services in a reverse proxy scenario.

Well, this is thick book and it took a while to get through but it was worth it and I’m now feeling much better prepared for practical work with TLS, openssl and juggling with certificates.

Yours, Peter

Books for Learning

Books, printed books, despite the promise that e-books will kill them in the age of the Internet, they’re still there and sold in millions by Amazon and the like. But I observe, that they’re still on the decline. Not because everyone would only read them in electronic form only. For this the smartphone is simply not really convenient. You need a tablet/iPad to enjoy reading e-books IMHO. No, it’s because books aren’t used anymore for learning. 

When I look around me at work, nobody other than me has books besides his desk and seems to read any book for work. Maybe they only read prose for pleasure, fine as well. But even that you see less and less in public transportation. What I see is that people don’t use books for learning but use other media instead. They watch videos, listen to podcasts or read articles in the world-wide web as they need it. You have an issue, you search and find some resource that tells you how to get ahead. On-demand learning, so to say. 

A book is something longer-term, you buy, you watch is waiting for you and you spend weeks, if not months to digest it in one piece if it is a good one. That takes time and effort and persistence to do. That’s not like a two-page article or 20min video that comes right to the point. I guess this is really the point, these other internet-based media are easier to digest and solve your problem of learning that you have right in this moment.

But this type of learning is a shallow one. You don’t really learn the fundamentals of the technology or topic. You learn how to solve exactly this one problem and the next day you’re as dump as you were. This is why people always say “I have no idea”. Really I avoid this phrase like hell. I do want to have a clue, an idea on the topics, I speak about, otherwise I shut my mouth. 

And for this you need deep knowledge, expert knowledge. Books are written usually by experts, at least if it’s a good book. They build up the topic from the grounds and systematically consolidate the matter using examples and give you reasons and arguments. At the end you are maybe not an expert yourself, experience is missing. But at least you have the feeling that you have profound knowledge to start from. 

There is the model of “cone of learning” from Edgar Dale, I think. It explains how good media are for learning. The book is doing pretty bad in this model. It is passive learning and you remember only small parts of what you read. In contrast a video or podcast is remembered much more. And that is probably right in the general. How long do you remember what you read a year ago in a book? Nevertheless the depth is a different in a book in contrast to other media. and I would say it needs to stay in the learning mix also these days, electronic or not. 

There is one more aspect, that I reflected about. Exactly that is the point, writing a book is equally more effort and takes more time than creating a podcast, video or writing an article (like this one, lol). So there is so much preparation going into writing a (good) book. A good friend of mine, Barbara Hoisl, wrote a book last year. Content-wise this is a completely own article, but she worked for more than a year only on the book, left apart the time for thinking about it and preparing the steps to get to start at all. But this is not only time, it is reflection and thinking time. And a book includes this reflection and thinking of months and years. It is maybe courageous to talk about wisdom, but a book certainly captures more wisdom than other media. And this is why one should read books in addition to consuming internet-based media.

Well, think about it, yours


Book Platform Ecosystems

There are a couple of books on platform business models and ecosystems. I recently bought two of them. One is “Platform Ecosystems, Aligning Architecture, Governance and Strategy” from Amrit Tiwana (see cover). The book is built up very systematically in explaining what the difference between a platform business model in a multi-sided platform and a classical product or solution business in a single-sided model is. He stresses the important of the interaction between architecture and governance in the evolution of a platform. Something a platform software architect likes to hear of course. Some later chapters are too advanced for my current needs at the moment but very very informative and clearly written. This will be for me a very influential book and is definitively worth a read!


End of last year I read this book on the TRIZ methodology, in English “theory of creative problem solving” originally developed by Genrich Saulowitch Altschuller in the former soviet union. Quite some time already I wanted to read about TRIZ, as I’m fascinated by the idea that you could systematically find and direct innovation. The book is also a nice introduction to innovation management by the way. Of course the method comes more from mechanical engineering and unfortunately does not translate directly to my space of computer science. That remains the open question for me, is it possible to find and document similar patterns in software engineering as TRIZ does it? Or do we maybe have something like this with architecture and design patterns more or less? It was an interesting read nevertheless and gets you thinking about how to systematically find new ideas and solutions for problems. And of course it is a nice piece of off-the-path thinking from Russia!