This is not about your grandparents’ Terminator robot

By Kevin de Snayer

For just about everyone in this new ever-connected age we live in, the topic of Artificial Intelligence (AI) seems to be something that we can’t avoid. From news articles, to business reports and predictions, to Hollywood movies, AI has become the hottest topic of 2020.

However, even with all of this coverage and attention, for many the complexity of AI and what it really does still escapes many of us. The challenge with understanding AI is first understanding what its capabilities actually are. And trust me when I say we are still a far cry from the idea that AI is somehow minutes away from being sentient—the fear of robot uprisings is still only for the box-office, not the corporate office.

That nonsense aside, AI and more importantly the concept of Machine Learning (ML) is something that is about to revolutionize the world of cyber security. As advancements in AI become more and more commonplace the ability to autonomously ingest, analyze, learn from, and action data of all kinds translates directly to a newfound sense of speed, accuracy and decision making never before seen in world history.

What does this mean for business security? As enterprises evolve and mature in their implementation and use of AI for cyber security initiatives, the technology becomes a new line and new type of defense. Now AI can use data and real-time analytics to predict attacks and threats before they happen, or at the very least catch them as they begin.

It’s this prediction and response paradigm that enables cyber security folks to gain insight into their domain and protect their domain from a “big picture” point of view—something that has never been available until now. For instance, AI and ML can enable real-time insight and threat mitigation by seeing everything from historical local logs, to configuration data, to analyzing the entirety of the global landscape as it relates to newly introduced potential threats—everything is calculated and managed at all times.

In fact, AI is quickly becoming the newest corporate super hero. It is being used to detect everything from fraud, to malware, and intrusion detection, not to mention network risk scoring and behavioural analysis. More so, those use cases are translating to significant cost savings given that thwarting just a single attack can save tens of millions of dollars on average. Not bad for a technology often vilified by Hollywood.

But, and there is always a but. AI has also become the center of the new cyber security arms race. For all the good that AI can do in keeping an eye on the world, it can also be used by cyber criminals to keep an eye on our world.

For every byte of data that AI analyses and learns from as part of protection, criminals can use that same technology and same data to analyze and learn how to breach a company’s defenses. And with AI being such a powerful tool, senior security executives are struggling to keep pace with AI-based attacks.

As just one of many examples, hackers are now using AI and ML algorithms to launch spear phishing attacks through social media. In short, AI sends “personalized messages” through chat functions within social platforms masquerading as a known contact to the recipient. And with its speed of send and response, social engineering is leveraged to trick people into thinking it’s a friend or relative who needs personal information right away. The outcome being a collection of personal data to be used to further criminal activity.

So, what’s a company to do? Simply put, they need to evolve. Taking the stance of fighting fire with fire is the only course of action to take. As AI becomes more and more accessible and usable, criminals will no doubt continue to leverage its abilities against organizations and the general public. However, by implementing an AI-based defense, keeping up with the speed and accuracy of AI becomes far more realistic and obtainable.

Cyber security and all that it entails will always be an arms race. Due diligence and vigilance is the only way to tackle the challenge. Pair that with partners who understand the threat landscape and the technology needed to address it and companies will have the best defense in a war that will never end, but can at least be kept at bay.