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UK’s Mindtech raises $3.25M from In-Q-Tel, among others, to train CCTV cameras on synthetic humans

By Mike Butcher

Imagine a world where no one’s privacy is breached, no faces are scanned into a gargantuan database, and no privacy laws are broken. This is a world that is fast approaching. Could companies simply dump the need for real-world CCTV footage, and switch to synthetic humans, acting out potential scenarios a million times over? That’s the tantalizing prospect of a new UK startup that has attracted funding from an influential set of investors.

UK-based Mindtech Global has developed what it describes as an end-to-end synthetic data creation platform. In plain English, its system can imagine visual scenarios such as someone’s behavior inside a store, or crossing the street. This data is then used to train AI-based computer vision systems for customers such as big retailers, warehouse operators, healthcare, transportation systems and robotics. It literally trains a ‘synthetic’ CCTV camera inside a synthetic world.

It’s now closed a $3.25 million early-stage funding round led by UK regional backer NPIF – Mercia Equity Finance, with Deeptech Labs and In-Q-Tel.

That last investor is significant. In-Q-Tel invests in startups that support US intelligence capabilities and is based in Arlington, Virginia…

Mindtech’s Chameleon platform is designed to help computers understand and predict human interactions. As we all know, current approaches to training AI vision systems require companies to source data such as CCTV footage. The process is fraught with privacy issues, costly, and time-consuming. Mindtech says Chameleon solves that problem, as its customers quickly “build unlimited scenes and scenarios using photo-realistic smart 3D models”.

An added bonus is that these synthetic humans can be used to train AI vision systems to weed out human failings around diversity and bias.

Mindtech CEO Steve Harris

Mindtech CEO Steve Harris

Steve Harris, CEO, Mindtech said: “Machine learning teams can spend up to 80% of their time sourcing, cleaning, and organizing training data. Our Chameleon platform solves the AI training challenge, freeing the industry to focus on higher-value tasks like AI network innovation. This round will enable us to accelerate our growth, enabling a new generation of AI solutions that better understand the way humans interact with each other and the world around them.”

So what can you do with it? Consider the following: A kid slips from its parent’s hand at the mall. The synthetic CCTV running inside Mindtech’s scenario is trained thousands of times over how to spot it in real-time and alert staff. Another: a delivery robot meets kids playing in a street and works out how to how to avoid them. Finally: a passenger on the platform is behaving erratically too close to the rails – the CCTV is trained to automatically spot them and send help.

Nat Puffer, Managing Director (London), In-Q-Tel commented: “Mindtech impressed us with the maturity of their Chameleon platform and their commercial traction with global customers. We’re excited by the many applications this platform has across diverse markets and its ability to remove a significant roadblock in the development of smarter, more intuitive AI systems.”

Miles Kirby, CEO, Deeptech Labs said: “As a catalyst for deeptech success, our investment, and accelerator program supports ambitious teams with novel solutions and the appetite to build world-changing companies. Mindtech’s highly-experienced team are on a mission to disrupt the way AI systems are trained, and we’re delighted to support their journey.”

There is of course potential for darker applications, such a spotting petty theft inside supermarkets, or perhaps ‘optimising’ hard-pressed warehouse workers in some dystopian fashion. However, in theory, Mindtech’s customers can use this platform to rid themselves of the biases of middle-managers, and better serve customers.

Microsoft secures court order to take down malicious ‘homoglyph’ domains

By Carly Page

Microsoft has secured a court order to take down several malicious “homoglyph” domains that were used to impersonate Office 365 customers and commit fraud. 

The technology giant filed a case earlier this month after it uncovered cybercriminal activity targeting its customers. After receiving a customer complaint about a business email compromise attack, a Microsoft investigation found that the unnamed criminal group responsible created 17 additional malicious domains, which were then used together with stolen customer credentials to unlawfully access and monitor Office 365 accounts in an attempt to defraud the customers’ contacts.

Microsoft confirmed in a blog post published Monday that a judge in the Eastern District of Virginia issued a court order requiring domain registrars to disable service on the malicious domains, which include “thegiaint.com” and “nationalsafetyconsuiting.com,” which were used to impersonate its customers.

These so-called “homoglyph” domains exploit the similarities of some letters to create deceptive domains that appear legitimate. For example, using an uppercase “I” and a lowercase “l” (e.g. MICROSOFT.COM vs. MlCROSOFT.COM). 

“These were together with stolen customer credentials to unlawfully access customer accounts, monitor customer email traffic, gather intelligence on pending financial transactions, and criminally impersonate [Office 365] customers, all in an attempt to deceive their victims into transferring funds to the cybercriminals,” Microsoft said in its complaint, adding that the cybercriminals “have caused and continue to cause irreparable injury to Microsoft, its customers, and the public.”

In one instance, for example, the criminals identified a legitimate email from the compromised account of an Office 365 customer referencing payment issues. Capitalizing on this information, the criminals sent an email from a homoglyph domain using the same sender name and nearly identical domain. They also used the same subject line and format of an email from the earlier, legitimate conversation, but falsely claimed a hold had been placed on the account by the chief financial officer and that payment needed to be received as soon as possible.

The cybercriminals then attempted to solicit a fraudulent wire transfer by sending new wire transfer information appearing to be legitimate, including using the logo of the company they were impersonating.

Microsoft notes that while these criminals will typically move their malicious infrastructure outside the Microsoft ecosystem once detected, the order — granted on Friday — eliminates defendants’ ability to move these domains to other providers. 

“The action will further allow us to diminish the criminals’ capabilities and, more importantly, obtain additional evidence to undertake further disruptions inside and outside court,” said Amy Hogan-Burney, general manager of Microsoft’s Digital Crime Unit.

The tech giant hasn’t yet disclosed the identities of the cybercriminals responsible for the BEC attacks, but said that “based on the techniques deployed, the criminals appear to be financially motivated, and we believe they are part of an extensive network that appears to be based out of West Africa.” The targets of the operation were predominantly small businesses operating in North America across several industries, according to Microsoft.

This isn’t the first time Microsoft secured a court order to step up its fight against cybercriminals and similar attacks, which research shows affected 71% of businesses in 2021. Last year, a court granted the tech giant’s request to seize and take control of malicious web domains used in a large-scale cyberattack targeting victims in 62 countries with spoofed COVID-19 emails. 

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