Cybersecurity needs AI

AI holds incredible promise, yet also creates new security challenges. But could AI-enabled cybersecurity be the solution?

AI is now the main driver of emerging enterprise technologies such as IoT, big data analytics, and robotics. And yet this is only the beginning of what AI may eventually achieve. The technology stands to revolutionize every industry and human endeavor, simulating humanlike capabilities (or even human-superior capabilities) via thinking and learning technologies.

As high-tech networks and devices become more and more enmeshed in our daily lives, attempts by malicious actors to illegally enter those vital systems and efforts to prevent those attacks have become of paramount concern for companies, customers, governments, and militaries.

Although cybersecurity concerns are as old as the Information Age itself, they have grown more urgent and global in recent years. The COVID-19 pandemic made it necessary for large numbers of people to work remotely, forcing even the most tech-resistant companies to invest in digital transformation. There is every reason to expect these trends to continue and even accelerate in the future.

Today’s enterprises face a cyber-risk landscape unlike anything they’ve seen before. As such, cybersecurity can no longer be classified as a purely IT concern. It has become a strategic imperative that affects teams and individuals in every industry, everywhere.

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The digitization and blending of business and customer worlds are resulting in more virtual attack surfaces in need of constant defense. Hackers, scammers, blackmail artists, and threat actors of all kinds are finding new opportunities to access, alter, and appropriate sensitive data. And the avenues of attack are expanding all the time.

To protect their assets and their customers, organizations must continue to guard against traditional threats and must realign their cybersecurity strategies to account for these new and growing challenges.

In the past, the bad actors behind ransomware, phishing attacks, and other forms of malware tended to cast a wide net with the hope of snaring a few possible targets from among many thousands. But as cyberattacks evolve, they are becoming much more personalized to individuals.

The weaponization of extracted data and social-media information will give attackers the ability to apply mounting pressure on victims. Ransomware attacks on critical infrastructure will likewise increase. Organizations that fall prey to data theft may find themselves facing extortion over threats to leak sensitive data, publicize breaches, attack vendors and supply chains, and target vulnerable customers.

Remote work has also blurred the line between home and office, creating many more potentially unprotected access points to company networks. Advances in IoT and 5G technologies offer new avenues of attack. And vital data contained in vulnerable cloud systems create additional opportunities for cybercriminals.

Furthermore, it is increasingly difficult to find and hire cybersecurity talent, a problem that besets IT leaders around the world. Cybersecurity hires take time to train and must become intimately familiar with not only their own organization and its vulnerabilities, but also with the evolving threat landscape. Understaffed teams often struggle to address the multitude of attacks and threats leading to direct and measurable damage. If these talent shortages aren’t addressed, it will open companies up to expanded and more numerous cyberattacks and data breaches in the future.

Automating cybersecurity with AI capabilities offers a potential solution to these growing problems. Specific capabilities of AI make it especially relevant to present and future cybersecurity threats:

  • Big data processing: Human analysts have limited ability to analyze large datasets. In contrast, AI tools can sift through massive amounts of network traffic with no drop in accuracy or effectiveness. AI tools are much more effective than humans when it comes to recognizing anomalies, establishing patterns, and connecting stray bits of information across gigantic data volumes. As a result, these tools can expose vulnerabilities and malicious activity before they cause significant problems.
  • Real-time problem solving: AI has the capability to figure out and solve complex issues within extremely limited time constraints—much faster than human response times. Real-time problem solving may be a defining factor of AI-enabled cybersecurity, as future threats will demand almost immediate identification and response from cybersecurity teams to prevent data loss and other damage.
  • Machine learning: The heart of AI is machine learning, the ability of programs to improve and learn on the fly, incorporating copious amounts of information to identify patterns and then altering their own algorithms to better achieve a set goal, whether it’s identifying human faces or voices or noticing and preventing hackers from infiltrating networks. By evaluating past and current data, AI systems can further strengthen company networks and other vulnerable points against a range of future threats.

AI stands to transform every business function, including cybersecurity. Yet it also creates significant challenges for organizations. Among them:

  • Bad actors can also use AI: Just as AI empowers legitimate organizations, it can also increase the effectiveness of malware. Threat actors around the world are already applying machine-learning capabilities to better identify and exploit vulnerabilities. Malicious use of AI may become even more common in the future, as various groups develop and share AI technologies and malware designed to target critical data and infrastructure.
  • AI is not yet fully autonomous: Laypeople often assume that AI is fully aware and self-determining, which is far from the truth. Although contemporary AI systems far exceed human capabilities when it comes to data analysis, accuracy, and response, they still depend on humans to train them, review and correct any false assumptions, and build understanding and a knowledge base. Human oversight allows AI to overcome shortcomings, but it creates other potential vulnerabilities in the cybersecurity defense landscape.
  • AI professionals are difficult to come by: As mentioned earlier, it can be extremely difficult to hire reliable talent with the experience and expertise needed to support AI initiatives. This is particularly true for companies that are either just starting out or that are just beginning to adopt AI cybersecurity measures.

We live in a time defined by the rich potential of technologies such as artificial intelligence. And just as AI has grown and developed from academic concept to concrete reality, so too has our need to protect ourselves and our data from evolving dangers. AI-enabled systems will reduce reliance on human operators, who are in short supply, and will provide a level of speed and skills that humans cannot begin to compete with, making it a perfect tool to help companies deflect and prevent future threats.

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