Alphabet launches Chronicle to turn machine learning on hackers

The latest company to evolve out of Alphabet's X moonshot program hopes it can mark the spot where hackers are breaking in. The project is entering a crowded market.

Laura Hautala
Laura Hautala
Laura Hautala Former Senior Writer
Laura wrote about e-commerce and Amazon, and she occasionally covered cool science topics. Previously, she broke down cybersecurity and privacy issues for CNET readers. Laura is based in Tacoma, Washington, and was into sourdough before the pandemic.
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Laura Hautala
2 min read

It's not a self-driving car or a smart contact lens, but the latest project to graduate from Alphabet's X moonshot program is still trying to solve a big technical problem.

Called Chronicle, the venture is developing technology that finds hackers faster than humans currently can. Alphabet, the parent company of Google, said Wednesday that Chronicle would become its own company. The company will continue to build tools that use machine learning to identify the signs of hackers in company systems and shorten the amount of time it takes to stop a breach.

"The information that security teams need to identify and investigate attacks is right there in an organization's existing security tools and IT systems, but it's hidden in enormous volumes of data and therefore can't easily be seen, understood, or used," said Astro Teller, CEO of X whose alternate title is Captain of Moonshots.

Chronicle isn't the first to turn to machine learning to solve this problem. The company joins a crowded field of cybersecurity firms that are trying to help companies find hackers sooner. Right now, computer security teams have plenty of tools that flag unusual behavior on their companies' networks and other signs that something is wrong, but there's a high rate of false alarms. Several companies hope their machine learning technologies will help identify the real problems amidst all the chaff.

Though it's not the first company to the field, Chronicle thinks it might have an advantage, Teller said in his blog post. "Chronicle is starting by trying to give organizations a much higher-resolution view of their security situation than they've ever had by combining machine learning, large amounts of computing power and large amounts of storage," he said.

Chronicle, the moonshot, took hold at X two years ago when Chronicle CEO Stephen Gillett, then at Google Ventures, teamed up with Mike Wiacek and Shapor Naghibzadeh, both longtime engineers on Google's security team. They worked closely with Virus Total creator Bernardo Quintero, whose malware reporting network was acquired by Google in 2012 and has been incorporated into Chronicle. 

First published Jan. 24 at 2:14 p.m. PT.
Update at 3:41 p.m. PT: Adds art from Chronicle and more background on the venture.