Oct
08
2020
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Grid AI raises $18.6M Series A to help AI researchers and engineers bring their models to production

Grid AI, a startup founded by the inventor of the popular open-source PyTorch Lightning project, William Falcon, that aims to help machine learning engineers work more efficiently, today announced that it has raised an $18.6 million Series A funding round, which closed earlier this summer. The round was led by Index Ventures, with participation from Bain Capital Ventures and firstminute. 

Falcon co-founded the company with Luis Capelo, who was previously the head of machine learning at Glossier. Unsurprisingly, the idea here is to take PyTorch Lightning, which launched about a year ago, and turn that into the core of Grid’s service. The main idea behind Lightning is to decouple the data science from the engineering.

The time argues that a few years ago, when data scientists tried to get started with deep learning, they didn’t always have the right expertise and it was hard for them to get everything right.

“Now the industry has an unhealthy aversion to deep learning because of this,” Falcon noted. “Lightning and Grid embed all those tricks into the workflow so you no longer need to be a PhD in AI nor [have] the resources of the major AI companies to get these things to work. This makes the opportunity cost of putting a simple model against a sophisticated neural network a few hours’ worth of effort instead of the months it used to take. When you use Lightning and Grid it’s hard to make mistakes. It’s like if you take a bad photo with your phone but we are the phone and make that photo look super professional AND teach you how to get there on your own.”

As Falcon noted, Grid is meant to help data scientists and other ML professionals “scale to match the workloads required for enterprise use cases.” Lightning itself can get them partially there, but Grid is meant to provide all of the services its users need to scale up their models to solve real-world problems.

What exactly that looks like isn’t quite clear yet, though. “Imagine you can find any GitHub repository out there. You get a local copy on your laptop and without making any code changes you spin up 400 GPUs on AWS — all from your laptop using either a web app or command-line-interface. That’s the Lightning “magic” applied to training and building models at scale,” Falcon said. “It is what we are already known for and has proven to be such a successful paradigm shift that all the other frameworks like Keras or TensorFlow, and companies have taken notice and have started to modify what they do to try to match what we do.”

The service is now in private beta.

With this new funding, Grid, which currently has 25 employees, plans to expand its team and strengthen its corporate offering via both Grid AI and through the open-source project. Falcon tells me that he aims to build a diverse team, not in the least because he himself is an immigrant, born in Venezuela, and a U.S. military veteran.

“I have first-hand knowledge of the extent that unethical AI can have,” he said. “As a result, we have approached hiring our current 25 employees across many backgrounds and experiences. We might be the first AI company that is not all the same Silicon Valley prototype tech-bro.”

“Lightning’s open-source traction piqued my interest when I first learned about it a year ago,” Index Ventures’ Sarah Cannon told me. “So intrigued in fact I remember rushing into a closet in Helsinki while at a conference to have the privacy needed to hear exactly what Will and Luis had built. I promptly called my colleague Bryan Offutt who met Will and Luis in SF and was impressed by the ‘elegance’ of their code. We swiftly decided to participate in their seed round, days later. We feel very privileged to be part of Grid’s journey. After investing in seed, we spent a significant amount with the team, and the more time we spent with them the more conviction we developed. Less than a year later and pre-launch, we knew we wanted to lead their Series A.”

Sep
02
2020
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A SonicWall cloud bug exposed corporate networks to hackers

A newly discovered bug in a cloud system used to manage SonicWall firewalls could have allowed hackers to break into thousands of corporate networks.

Enterprise firewalls and virtual private network appliances are vital gatekeepers tasked with protecting corporate networks from hackers and cyberattacks while still letting in employees working from home during the pandemic. Even though most offices are empty, hackers frequently look for bugs in critical network gear in order to break into company networks to steal data or plant malware.

Vangelis Stykas, a researcher at security firm Pen Test Partners, found the new bug in SonicWall’s Global Management System (GMS), a web app that lets IT departments remotely configure their SonicWall devices across the network.

But the bug, if exploited, meant any existing user with access to SonicWall’s GMS could create a user account with access to any other company’s network without permission.

From there, the newly created account could remotely manage the SonicWall gear of that company.

In a blog post shared with TechCrunch, Stykas said there were two barriers to entry. Firstly, a would-be attacker would need an existing SonicWall GMS user account. The easiest way — and what Stykas did to independently test the bug — was to buy a SonicWall device.

The second issue was that the would-be attacker would also need to guess a unique seven-digit number associated with another company’s network. But Stykas said that this number appeared to be sequential and could be easily enumerated, one after the other.

Once inside a company’s network, the attacker could deliver ransomware directly to the internal systems of their victims, an increasingly popular tactic for financially driven hackers.

SonicWall confirmed the bug is now fixed. But Stykas criticized the company for taking more than two weeks to patch the vulnerability, which he described as “trivial” to exploit.

“Even car alarm vendors have fixed similar issues inside three days of us reporting,” he wrote.

A SonicWall spokesperson defended the decision to subject the fix to a “full” quality check before it was rolled out, and said it is “not aware” of any exploitation of the vulnerability.

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