The Risk Of AI Being Used For Offensive Purposes

Apart from a few leading-edge companies, the deployment of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in business has been slower that it supporters might have hoped for. Whereas governments and their intelligence and security agencies are committed to use AI  to help deal with threats from criminals and hostile states which use AI to strengthen their own attacks, they are evidently not yet on top of AI.

A study, undertaken by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Darktrace, has revealed that around half of executives are worried about the use of AI to attack both their digital and hardware systems.

Today’s cybersecurity threats are incredibly smart and sophisticated. Security experts face a daily battle to identify and assess new risks, identify possible mitigation measures and decide what to do about the residual risk. This next generation of cyber security threats require agile and intelligent programs that can rapidly adapt to new and unforeseen attacks. Indeed, AI is no longer a tool only for the “good guys”; malicious actors now use it as a force multiplier as well.

A Complex Environment

It’s increasingly common for organisations to have a multi-faceted digital infrastructure that contains hybrid, multi-cloud and IoT environments. The growing complexity of their working environment, with an expanded infrastructure leading to a significant growth in security challenges that are only compounded by the speed and sophistication of attacks. 

This provides a multitude of operational benefits, but it also provides an ever growing expanse to protect and secure from attacks. 

In fact, the Forrester report finds that 83% of executives think that their digital infrastructure had expanded in such a way as to make developing a unified security strategy significantly harder. Nowhere is this complexity more evident than in the growth in AI-enabled attacks.

The report highlights how machines are already commonly attacking machines, but that it’s increasingly common for machines to successfully attack humans, and this new approach is something that businesses aren’t ready for. “It’s no surprise that 86% of cyber security decision makers are concerned with threat actors leveraging AI to supercharge attacks and a further 88% believe it’s inevitable for AI-driven attacks to go mainstream.” the report concludes.

A Losing Battle

Many corporate cyber security teams are at risk of fighting yesterday’s battles, where their traditional defenses are reliant upon outdated attack scenarios which are no longer resistant to AI-powered attacks. There are signs that things are changing, however, or at least, that there is a need for change.  There’s a growing appreciation for the need for speed, both in identifying attacks and then responding to them. Despite this, less than 25% of businesses said they could recover from an attack in less than 3 hours.

Organisations need to develop the capability to detect, interpret, and respond to attacks as quickly and nimbly as the attackers are themselves acting.

As the breadth of infrastructure grows, the number of vulnerabilities grows alongside it, and so organisations have to adopt an agile approach to keeping their infrastructure safe. As well as the lightning speed of AI-driven attacks, executives also worried about the nature of attacks, with two thirds expecting offensive AI to conduct attacks that no human could conceive of. 
They expect these attacks to be unpredictable and stealthy, therefore evading more traditional security measures that reference historical attacks. Many expect to utilise AI in a defensive capacity, with a machine learning approach used to upgrade defences far faster than humans could manage. “The real issue with this is that because AI moves faster and better than current legacy defenses, the “evil AI” will win in most instances.”he report says. 

The use of AI to both protect and attack digital systems is an inevitability of the modern age, but the lack of strategic focus on cybersecurity renders many organisations more vulnerable than they need to be. In a digital arms race,

AI tooling and capabilities are no longer nice to haves, but should be fundamental parts of the security toolkit. 

While there is a growing awareness of this requirement, it remains to be seen how many cyber security managers are given the tools and resources they need to maintain the security of their systems.

AI & Machine Learning

AI and machine learning technologies address these challenges and are giving rise to new possibilities for cyber security threat protection.  AI in cyber security plays an important role in threat detection, pattern recognition, and response time reduction. Adopting AI in cyber security offers better solutions when it comes to analysing massive quantities of data, speeding up response times, and increasing efficiency of often under-resourced security teams.

AI is designed and trained to collect, store, analyse and process significant amounts of data from both structured and unstructured sources.

Deploying technologies such as machine learning and deep learning allows the AI to constantly evolve and improve its knowledge about cybersecurity threats and cyber risk. For example, by recognising patterns in our environment and applying complex analytics, AI enables us to automatically flag unusual patterns and enable detection of network problems and cyber-attacks in real-time. 

This visibility supplies deeper insights into the threat landscape which in turn informs the machine learning. This means that AI-based security systems are constantly learning, adapting and improving.

Darktrace:        Cyber News:      ZDNet:      Information Security Buzz

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