27 October 2012

Dark Pools: OPS Risk of Rogue Algorithms...

When you begin to think about the potential Operational Risks we face everyday, they are so wide and so numerous that each organization has developed their own methods for Enterprise Risk Management.  Depending upon the industry you are in and the speed of your business will determine the subject matter expertise that is required to deter, detect, defend and document your particular operational risks.

This is business as usual in the Financial Services industry.  Yet what about those low probability and high consequence incidents that are looming over the horizon?  The "Black Swans" as they have been defined in the past few years.  What if these "Black Swans" were known to exist everyday and could be witnessed swimming around in what are known as "Dark Pools."  You know, the places where the "Algo Bots", Quants and those who win, are doing so at the speed of light.  In the milliseconds of time it takes, for one algorithm to buy and another to sell within the trading exchanges, we can only continue to pray that the mathematics does not go rogue:
A news-breaking account of the global stock market's subterranean battles, Dark Pools portrays the rise of the "bots"- artificially intelligent systems that execute trades in milliseconds and use the cover of darkness to out-maneuver the humans who've created them.
In the beginning was Josh Levine, an idealistic programming genius who dreamed of wresting control of the market from the big exchanges that, again and again, gave the giant institutions an advantage over the little guy. Levine created a computerized trading hub named Island where small traders swapped stocks, and over time his invention morphed into a global electronic stock market that sent trillions in capital through a vast jungle of fiber-optic cables.  
By then, the market that Levine had sought to fix had turned upside down, birthing secretive exchanges called dark pools and a new species of trading machines that could think, and that seemed, ominously, to be slipping the control of their human masters. 
Dark Pools is the fascinating story of how global markets have been hijacked by trading robots--many so self-directed that humans can't predict what they'll do next. 
Managing Operational Risk with the underground "Dark Pools" is a stretch.  No different than trying to understand something as easy as CDO's or a tranche of sub-prime mortgages from a zip code in Las Vegas all packed up in a Wall Street product you now recognize as a Mortgage-Backed Security (MBS):
Low quality mortgage-backed securities backed by subprime mortgages played a major role in the 2007–2012 global financial crisis. By 2012 the market for high quality mortgage-backed securities had recovered and was a profit center for banks in the United States.
High Frequency Trading (HFT) is not new.  It has been evolving for years.  The battle for speed, has even changed the way organizations think about buying their circuits for telecommunications and data communications, between these increasingly complex and sophisticated computing critical infrastructures.  Here is one example:

Ridgeland, MS - September 17, 2012 -Spread Networks, LLC, a privately owned telecommunications provider, today announced the deployment of 100G technology on Spread's industry leading Chicago to New York fiber backbone. Spread's new service offers customers access to 100 gigabits per second of optical bandwidth, unregenerated, on Spread's 14.6 millisecond round-trip best-latency-in-class Ultra Low Latency Chicago-New York Wavelength service.  Spread's flagship Ultra Low Latency Chicago-New York Dark Fiber service is now operational at a roundtrip latency of 12.98 milliseconds roundtrip, a 100 microsecond improvement from Spread's previous 13.1 millisecond offering.  The latency improvement over Spread's dark fiber, which is already implemented, is the result of continuous route improvements that Spread has undertaken since going live in August, 2010.  Spread's 12.98 millisecond dark fiber offering provides customers with unlimited bandwidth on a 99.999% available service at the lowest latencies achievable by fiber optic networks between these two financial centers.  For financial customers who value low-latency and reliability for their mission critical trading applications, there is no other comparable solution.
Most people at the SEC, Federal Reserve and the DOJ fully understand the need for business to do whatever it takes to create a competitive advantage.  What however still remains our "Single-Point-of-Failure" is the math.  The mathematics that make up the algorithms.  The zeros and ones of software code that tell the computers what to do and when to do it.  How many people really can understand it and explain it?

So how do you mitigate the potential risk of a rogue algorithm?  Some have devised a mechanism called a circuit-breaker.  In other words, an alarm that something is not normal.  Let's slow down until we can understand what is going on here.  What are some other ways that we could potentially address the threat or the vulnerability?  Was the "Flash Crash" a weak signal of a pending melt down of the complete system?
We are increasingly dependent on computers for all that we do, and the government won’t always be able to prevent their malfunctioning from causing serious problems. But the many glitches that have plagued financial markets in the past couple of years should serve as a sobering reminder that financial markets have evolved much more quickly in the past decade than regulators have.As Scott Patterson, author of Dark Poolsa book about high-frequency trading, said to Yahoo Finance Monday, “We have seen a massive revolution in how exchanges work. It’s been put in place extremely fast . . . the problem is that the race for profits at the exchanges and at the high-frequency firms has outpaced their ability to manage risk.”  Read more: http://business.time.com/2012/08/08/high-frequency-trading-wall-streets-doomsday-machine/#ixzz2AWeXPorn

21 October 2012

Starfish: A Community of Resilience...

When is the last time you were in an environment where trust was implicit?  A place where the people you were working along side, shared a unity of purpose and a single mission.  Once you experience this, it is forever engraved in your mind and felt deep in your soul.  A "Starfish Community," walking together with such a high degree of mutual trust, it will endure and remain resilient against all Operational Risks that may be encountered.

Enabled by the wisdom and thinking from Rod Beckstrom and Ori Brafman's book "Starfish and the Spider:  The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations, the "Starfish Community" is growing rapidly across the globe.  A group of decentralized networks that are able to work without hesitancy and with moral courage.  It does not matter if the model is used on the battlefield or in business, the desired outcomes are the same.  Joby Warrick at the WP describes the latest work of al-Qaeda:
Authorities in Jordan have disrupted a major terrorist plot by al-Qaeda-linked operatives to launch near-simultaneous attacks on multiple civilian and government targets, reportedly including the U.S. Embassy in the capital, Amman, said Western and Middle Eastern officials Sunday.  The Jordanian government issued a statement confirming the plot and saying that 11 people with connections to al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq have been arrested. 
The foiled attack, described as the most serious plot uncovered in Jordan since 2005, was viewed with particular alarm by intelligence agencies because of its sophisticated design and the planned use of munitions intended for the Syria conflict — a new sign that Syria’s troubles could be spilling over into neighboring countries, the officials said.
The alleged plotters are Jordanian nationals. The officials said the group had amassed a stockpile of explosives and weapons from Syrian battlefields and devised a plan to use military-style tactics in a wave of attacks across Amman.  
The scheme called for multiple strikes on shopping centers and cafes as a diversionary tactic to draw the attention of police and security officials, allowing other operatives to launch attacks against the main targets, which included government buildings and embassies.  A Western official briefed on details of the plot confirmed that the U.S. Embassy in Amman was among the targets. Like others interviewed for this report, the official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is still unfolding.
The ability for the Starfish Community to evolve, adapt and to consistently execute against its agreed upon mission manifests itself in terrorist acts and simultaneously in humanitarian and disaster response.  The ability for the human race to at one moment be so evil and at the same moment so forgiving and good, will continue to amaze us all:
Syrian Arab Republic, 2012
HISG has provided food, blankets, medicine, and other assistance to families that have been affected the by political turmoil in Syria. Many of these people have lost their only source of income because businesses have shut down. Others have simply fled the larger cities to escape the violence. 
The assistance has gone to families like these: In one household, the mother had died from illness, leaving the father to care for five small children. He was not able to keep his job, and now sells small items door to door or on the streets, but it was not enough to provide for his children. When his family received food packs and heating oil in the winter, he was overwhelmed with gratitude. 
Late 2011 and early 2012 brought on an unusually cold winter in Syria, and the harsh temperatures coupled with the protests and demonstrations drove the price of heating oil to 4 times its usual price. The blankets were delivered to insulate people from the cold and help them survive the bitter cold.
The business world evolves around us with mergers and acquisitions, incidents of fraud and corruption while a silent and clandestine army of cyber warriors wage conflict on our critical infrastructure and copy or steal our intellectual assets.  The ability for the "Starfish Community" to survive in the virtual environment of the Internet is no different than the cities of Aleppo or Amman.  This is why Wikipedia and other open source projects are able to continuously adapt, grow and survive the threats or vulnerabilities to this resilient and self-healing network.

How have organizations like Google and others designed their business to withstand the tests of both physical and virtual threats to it's global well-being?  
8.  The need for information crosses all borders.
Our company was founded in California, but our mission is to facilitate access to information for the entire world, and in every language. To that end, we have offices in more than 60 countries, maintain more than 180 Internet domains, and serve more than half of our results to people living outside the United States. We offer Google’s search interface in more than 130 languages, offer people the ability to restrict results to content written in their own language, and aim to provide the rest of our applications and products in as many languages and accessible formats as possible. Using our translation tools, people can discover content written on the other side of the world in languages they don’t speak. With these tools and the help of volunteer translators, we have been able to greatly improve both the variety and quality of services we can offer in even the most far–flung corners of the globe. 
A crisis appears in your business only when you are unable to adapt and withstand the impact of the virtual or physical forces thrust upon you.  Whether it is the economic well being of the U.S. or the privacy laws in Europe.  The shock wave of a VBIED or insider threat.  Your organization could reach an Operational Risk crisis state, if you have not embraced the architecture of the "Starfish Community".  Learn from the best on how to withstand the test of time and and all that humanity has in store for us.  And to all of those who are on the front lines of crisis everyday.  God Speed.  You know who you are.