Posted 2 Sep 2019

The impact of AI on cybersecurity

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By Andrew Robinson

What is AI?

Artificial intelligence, or AI, refers to computer systems that are able to demonstrate behaviours associated with human intelligence. This encompasses learning, problem-solving, visual perception and speech recognition, to name a few. AI is often categorised as either “narrow” or “general”; it is also referred to as “weak” versus “strong” AI. Narrow or weak AI performs a specific task, whereas general or strong AI aims to process broader, more complex problem-solving. Narrow AI has become a commonplace part of our every day: social media, tech gadgets and mobile apps all use it to optimise the user experience. Strong AI is still merely a concept: machines capable of experiencing consciousness.

 

How has AI impacted cybersecurity?

The development of AI has massively impacted every industry, from manufacturing to agriculture and healthcare. Cybersecurity is no exception, with both positive and negative impact – AI has simultaneously improved computer security systems and increased the power and threat of cybercriminals and hackers.

 

The positive impact of AI in cybersecurity

  1. Data can be better managed - The data explosion we are currently experiencing means that large organisations and companies have huge data stores which, if organised poorly, can make them vulnerable to cyberattacks. AI can process and analyse vast volumes of data quickly and consistently, without the risk of human error, therefore making data centres more secure and compliant with government regulations.
  2. Speed of detection - The learning ability of AI means that smart cybersecurity systems can learn to distinguish normal from malicious behaviour through pattern recognition. They are able to constantly monitor the cyber environment and quickly identify, and even predict threats. Compared to traditional signature- and rule-based intrusion detection systems, smart cyber is far more advanced, proactive and responsive.
  3. More reliable user authentication - Many cybersecurity experts believe passwords are no longer sufficient protection of personal data, as they can often be easily predicted or even bought on the dark web by hackers. AI systems that use biometric logins, such as fingerprint or retina scans, to identify users are being increasingly adopted into the everyday and business world.
  4. Cybersecurity talent support - AI helps cybersecurity teams work more efficiently by doing the repetitive, labour-intensive tasks that would be very time-consuming for a human to do. This allows for expert teams to focus more on strategy and innovation.

 

The negative impact of AI on cybersecurity

  1. More sophisticated attacks - Hackers can exploit machine learning technology to orchestrate smarter attacks that are harder to detect and mitigate. Just as AI increases the speed of malware detection, it can also produce malware that attacks scripts more quickly and complexly. Cyberattacks can already cause irrevocable damage to businesses; if hackers harness AI to create more advanced malware, this will only worsen.
  2. Wider scope of targeting - AI allows hackers to scale their operation by automating attacks in bulk. This benefits low-level hackers and increases the likelihood of them successfully getting money from a victim.
  3. AI and social media - With such a large percentage of the population now on social media, there is a goldmine of personal data for hackers to exploit. AI can quickly extract people’s personal data on social media, which can then be used to personalise spear-phishing attacks, making them appear more believable and therefore more likely to con people.

Artificial intelligence will undoubtedly be a defining innovation of the 21st century. As with any major technological advancement, the development of AI solves old problems, whilst also creating new ones. Within cybersecurity, it is simply a question of which side – the ‘good guys’ or the hackers – will harness its power to best use.