Cisco spotlights generative AI in security, collaboration

Looking to harness a decade of AI/ML development Cisco this week previewed generative AI-based features it will soon bring to its Security Cloud service and Webex collaboration offerings.

Cisco said it was looking meld the network and security intelligence it has amassed over the years with the large language models (LLMs) of generative AI to simplify enterprise operations and address threats with practical, effective techniques.  

The first fruits of this effort will be directed at the Cisco Security Cloud, the overarching, integrated-security platform that includes software such as Duo access control and Umbrella security as well as firewalls and  Talos threat intelligence access all delivered via the cloud.

During his Cisco Live! keynote, Jeetu Patel, Cisco’s executive vice president and general manager of security and collaboration, said that an AI-based policy engine, Policy Assistant, will be available by the end of the year in Security Cloud. The idea is that the assistant will use natural language interfaces to simplify policy management for admins, he said. 

Security and IT administrators will be able to describe granular security policies and the assistant willl evaluate how to best implement them across different aspects of their security infrastructure, Patel said.

At the Live! event, Cisco demoed how a generative Cisco Policy Assistant can reason with the existing set of  firewall policy rules to implement and simplify them within the Cisco Secure Firewall Management Center. Cisco says it is the first of many examples of how generative AI can reimagine policy management across the Cisco Security Cloud.

“Basically going forward you won’t need to have a Ph.D. to manage a firewall policy,” Patel said.

In addition, he said the security assistant will let customers describe and contextualize events across email, the web, endpoints, and the network to tell security operation center (SOC) analyst exactly what happened, the impact, and best next steps to take to remediate problems and set new policies.

The SOC Assistant will provide a comprehensive situation analysis for analysts, correlating intel across the Cisco Security Cloud, relaying potential impacts, and providing recommended actions with the goal of reducing the time needed for SOC teams to respond to potential threats, he said.

“Cisco will continue to add generative AI capabilities to our entire security portfolio over time,” Patel said.

Generative AI will also be a part of features—to be disclosed in the future—in Cisco Networking Cloud unveiled at this week’s Cisco Live! The Networking Cloud will involve a broad range of software and cloud-system integration and has as its ultimate goal to converge networking platforms over time, culminating in a unified management platform.  

Cisco relies on in-house generative AI.

In addition, Cisco recently announced plans to buy Armorblox, a six-year-old AI vendor, to help create “an AI-first Security Cloud.”

“Leveraging Armorblox’s use of predictive and generative AI across our portfolio, we will change the way our customers understand and interact with their security control points,” wrote Raj Chopra senior vice president and chief product officer for Cisco Security in a blog announcing the pending acquisition.

The use of generative AI is potentially a powerful tool for enterprises but its still early yet and customers should start to get a handle on it now, said Neil Anderson, area vice president of Cloud & Infrastructure Solutions at World Wide Technology (WWT), a technology services provider and Cisco business partner.

WWT recently issued a report on the use of generative AI in the enterprise that stated: “For now, generative AI should be treated with caution. Unless using a proprietary generative AI solution, the technology is not ready for critical or semi-critical enterprise use cases. Governance and risk management must be top of mind for IT leaders being inundated with requests for how best to implement the technology.”

“We expect that as people get their arms  around AI and figure out how they will actually use this technology securely, it will become valuable—because it’s a little like the Wild West right now,” Anderson said.

Shamus McGillicuddy, research director for the network-management practice at Enterprise Management Associates, said network pros recognize that AI/ML can optimize and automate IT operations, so it makes sense for Cisco to make a big investment in it.

“It will take time for customers to learn to trust this stuff,” he said. “If it works, AI features will prove their value fairly quickly. Right now, much of this is about vision and a commitment to product development. Automated troubleshooting and predictive capacity management will be key use cases.”

AI will support Webex features, too.

Cisco’s security portfolio won’t be the only system where generative AI will impact customers.

The company introduced a variety of AI-based features for its flagship collaboration Webex Suite of software as well.

For example, a new catch-me-up feature lets users ask questions about meetings or chats they missed. The idea is that customers can find out the status of a project or get an overview of what was discussed in a previous meeting they might have missed. In addition, users can simply generate intelligent summaries of meetings with action items from a Webex meeting or Vidcast, Cisco’s video messaging tool.  

Also a new conversation capability in Webex Contact Center will provide agents with a fast, automated way to consume long-form text from digital chats with customers as well as easing post-call wrap-up and resolution with customers.

The idea with the new AI features within Webex is to save times and help make faster, smarter decisions by analyzing vast amounts of information in real-time, Cisco stated. 

“AI empowers organizations to tackle the challenges of hybrid work head-on, bridging gaps in real-time information, streamlining manual processes, reducing unnecessary meetings, and ultimately delivering exceptional experiences for employees and customers,” Cisco stated in a blog post.

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