Cybersecurity has evolved significantly as technology has advanced. Increased interconnectivity and digital transformation have both significantly altered how end users and businesses communicate, with geographical borders and time zones proving far less obstructive than in recent years.
Unfortunately, what that has now done is allowed cybercrime to grow increasingly rife, with cybercriminals possessing the ability to conduct more sophisticated, covert, and strategic attacks than ever before.
AI’s Influence in Cybercrime and Cyber Defence
With artificial intelligence (AI) becoming more prevalent in recent months and years, and with it set to continue proving a dominant disruptor in the years to come even with promises of regulation, the threat landscape itself is also undergoing a period of rapid evolution.
For every opportunity that AI has to automate processes in business, there is an avenue for cybercriminals to develop and enhance how they plan and execute attacks.
While AI can provide multiple opportunities for advancement and automation of repetitive, time-consuming and arduous tasks, sector-wide experts continue to recommend caution and strategic human insight of its applications in business. For instance, penetration testing services, ethical cyber defence strategies, must still be overseen by professionals to validate that controls and programs are working as intended.
Companies across all sectors and geographies must stay ahead of the curve and leverage AI successfully to combat future threats and maintain a robust cybersecurity posture. Utilizing AI successfully to beat the threat actors at their own game is easier said than done; as bolstering a commercial cybersecurity infrastructure requires methodical planning, proper investment, and a proper understanding of AI in cyber threats.
That’s why it’s crucial to explore the projected cost of cybercrime, how attackers can leverage AI for malicious purposes, and what businesses can do – as a starting point – to protect themselves in an AI-dominated world.
Several factors account for this astronomical increase:
More business is conducted online than ever before, thus drastically expanding the attack surface for criminals.
Attacks are more sophisticated. Cybercriminal gangs are using covert, well-orchestrated strategies and advanced technology like AI to carry out assaults. This is causing damage to systems and infrastructure for longer periods without being detected.
There are more connected devices than ever, ranging from Internet of Things (IoT) gadgets to interconnected, cloud-based storage systems, along with onsite and remote servers. Each device is a potential entry point which can be exploited.
Data has become immensely valuable for malicious hacking. Medical records, financial information, and intellectual property can all be seized and used as bargaining chips for ransoms or simply sold on the dark web.
Attacks like ransomware are more lucrative, allowing criminals to extort enormous sums from victims who do not want sensitive brand or customer information to be leaked.
With the rise of AI, cybercriminals have more power and influence than ever before. Therefore, brands in the public eye must take more proactive measures to stay secure, beyond simply using malware detection software.
How Attackers Use AI
Firstly, it’s important to look at how AI can be used for malicious purposes by a cybercriminal. AI provides criminals with an autonomous and algorithm-driven toolkit to hack systems and hide their tracks quickly, without much in the way of manual input.
Here are some of the ways attackers leverage AI:
Spear phishing – AI can generate targeted phishing emails disguising the sender as someone that a recipient might know. The fraudulent content is customized for each recipient, making it more believable, with messages of urgency prompting immediate action where recipients are less likely to question whether the sender is being impersonated.
Forgeries – Using AI, criminals can create fake documents or audio transcriptions that would otherwise appear innocuous. Whether this is to give unauthorized wire transfers or prompt defences to be lowered, the inability to accurately detect whether the information is legitimate gives cybercriminals a window to execute this malicious activity.
Password cracking – Cybercriminals can use AI to execute brute force attacks, in which usernames and password combinations can be guessed ad infinitum, at incredible speeds. If companies do not adopt stronger password policies, weaker credentials are more at risk of being compromised.
Generating malware – With the help of AI, new malicious code and algorithms can be developed more quickly and created to avoid instant detection by antivirus software. Almost any variant in code can be created in a matter of minutes.
While the current threat landscape looks bleak on paper, it’s reassuring to know that businesses can turn the tables and use AI to enhance their cybersecurity.
How Businesses Can Utilize AI for Cyber Defense
Predictive analytics – By analyzing large data sets, AI can identify potential vulnerabilities quickly and autonomously. This allows cybersecurity teams to patch or update them quickly before they are exploited.
Powerful encryption – AI can be used to create better encryption methods to protect sensitive data. Future-proofing systems with multi-factor authentication (MFA) like one-time passwords (OTPs), biometrics, or additional verification can be made easier with the help of AI.
Access management – AI enhances access management by screening users in real-time and validating identities using facial recognition software. This can be implemented to detect credential misuse and prevent unauthorized access to sensitive data or shared systems.
Network monitoring – AI algorithms identify anomalies in network traffic that signal malicious activity such as DDoS (Distributed Denial-of-Service) attacks. These warning signs are spotted early with notifications alerting teams to unusual spikes in traffic and prompting them to act decisively.
Security automation – AI can automate routine security tasks to relieve the burden on IT and security teams. Companies’ systems are reinforced without as much time-consuming and labor-intensive manual work. A case study by IBM showed that organizations that leverage AI and automation see better results in threat detection and assessment.
Incident response – AI speeds up cyber incident response processes by quickly analyzing threats or anomalies and guiding optimal actions. Human analysts will still ideally need to supervise, adjust, and optimize the AI-powered processes, but it can speed up the threat containment phase.
Establishing an AI-Driven Cybersecurity Program
To fully realize the tangible advantages of AI for cybersecurity, businesses need to take a strategic approach.
Companies need to:
Perform regular cyber risk assessments to understand your vulnerable areas and maintain a detailed inventory of all assets.
Build a robust data management foundation. Centralize data from various systems to feed your AI and clean up any data errors that could adversely impact AI accuracy.
Align your AI goals with cybersecurity procedures and policies. Outline how AI will integrate across your cyber program and support your business’s short- and long-term goals.
Acquire AI platforms designed specifically for cybersecurity use cases. Try to avoid repurposing general, off-the-shelf business AI tools.
Hire data scientists and engineers to operate and influence your AI integration. Cybersecurity experts should inform its development and outward scaling. Starting small with pilots and individual use cases should be the first step before major, large-scale investments are made.
Create feedback loops between AI and human analysts for continuous enhancement. AI should augment existing staff, rather than replace them.
With cybercriminals leveraging AI, businesses are facing a new era of threats. But by harnessing AI to beat the criminals at their own game, systems and data can be protected and future-proofed.
The future may be unclear and unpredictable, but proactive cyber strategies and methodical and ethical AI adoption will be pivotal to helping companies remain secure and counter the more sophisticated cyber attacks that befall many businesses these days.
Disclaimer: The author is completely responsible for the content of this article. The opinions expressed are their own and do not represent IEEE’s position nor that of the Computer Society nor its Leadership.