Artificial intelligence in cyber security: The savior or enemy of your business?
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Artificial intelligence in cyber security: The savior or enemy of your business?

The role of AI in cyber security and how it’s reinventing cyber security and cybercrime alike


Note: This article, which was originally published in 2019, has been updated to include related news & media resources.

Artificial intelligence poses both a blessing and a curse to businesses, customers, and cybercriminals alike.

AI technology is what provides us with speech recognition technology (think Siri), Google’s search engine, and Facebook’s facial recognition software. Some credit card companies are now using AI to help financial institutions prevent billions of dollars in fraud annually. But what about its applications in cyber security? Is artificial intelligence an advantage or a threat to your company’s digital security?

On one hand, artificial intelligence in cyber security is beneficial because it improves how security experts analyze, study, and understand cybercrime. It enhances the cyber security technologies that companies use to combat cybercriminals and help keep organizations and customers safe. On the other hand, artificial intelligence can be very resource intensive. It may not be practical in all applications. More importantly, it also can serve as a new weapon in the arsenal of cybercriminals who use the technology to hone and improve their cyberattacks.

The discussion about artificial intelligence in cyber security is nothing new. In fact, two years ago, we were writing about how artificial intelligence and machine learning would change the future of cyber security. After all, data is at the core of cyber security trends. And what better way to analyze data than to use computers that can think and do in nanoseconds tasks that would take people significantly more time?

Artificial intelligence is a growing area of interest and investment within the cyber security community. We’ll discuss advances in artificial intelligence security tools and how the technology impacts organizations, cybercriminals, and consumers alike.

Let’s hash it out.

How artificial intelligence cyber security measures improve digital security

Ideally, if you’re like many modern businesses, you have multiple levels of protection in place — perimeter, network, endpoint, application, and data security measures. For example, you may have hardware or software firewalls and network security solutions that track and determine which network connections are allowed and block others. If hackers make it past these defenses, then they’ll be up against your antivirus and anti-malware solutions. Then perhaps they may face your intrusion detection/intrusion prevention solutions (IDS/IPS), etc., etc.

But what happens when cybercriminals get past these protections? If your cyber security is dependent on the capabilities of human-based monitoring alone, you’re in trouble. After all, cybercrime doesn’t follow a set schedule —your cyber security response capabilities shouldn’t either. You need to be able to detect, identify, and respond to the threats immediately — 24/7/365. Regardless of holidays, non-work hours, or when employees are otherwise unavailable, your digital security solutions need to be up to the task and able to respond immediately. Artificial intelligence-based cyber security solutions are designed to work around the clock to protect you. AI can respond in milliseconds to cyberattacks that would take minutes, hours, days, or even months it would take humans to identify.

What cyber security executives think about AI

Capgemini Research Institute analyzed the role of cyber security and their report “Reinventing Cybersecurity with Artificial Intelligence” indicates that building up cyber security defenses with AI is imperative for organizations. This is, in part, because the survey’s respondents (850 executives from cyber security, IT information security and IT operations across 10 countries) believe that AI-enabled response is necessary because hackers are already using the technology to perform cyberattacks.

Some of the report’s other key takeaways include:

  • 75% of surveyed executives say that AI allows their organization to respond faster to breaches.
  • 69% of organizations think AI is necessary to respond to cyberattacks.
  • Three in five firms say that using AI improves the accuracy and efficiency of cyber analysts.

The use of artificial intelligence can help broaden the horizons of existing cyber security solutions and pave the way to create new ones. As networks become larger and more complex, artificial intelligence can be a huge boon to your organization’s cyber protections. Simply put, the growing complexity of networks is beyond what human beings are capable of handling on their own. And that’s okay to acknowledge — you don’t have to be prideful. But it does leave you with answering a critical question: What are you going to do to ensure your organization’s sensitive data and customer information are secure?

Artificial intelligence in cyber security: how you can add AI to your defense

Effectively integrating artificial intelligence technology into your existing cyber security systems isn’t something that can be done overnight. As you’d guess, it takes planning, training, and groundwork preparation to ensure your systems and employees can use it to its full advantage.

In an article for Forbes, Allerin CEO and founder Naveen Joshi shares that there are many ways that AI systems can integrate with existing cyber security functions. Some of these functions include:

  • Creating more accurate, biometric-based login techniques
  • Detecting threats and malicious activities using predictive analytics
  • Enhancing learning and analysis through natural language processing
  • Securing conditional authentication and access

Once you’ve integrated AI into your cyber security solutions, your cyber security analysts and other IT security employees need to know how to effectively use it. This takes both time and training. Be sure to not neglect investing in your organization’s human element.

Companies that integrate artificial intelligence in their cyber security solutions

If you look around the industry, there are many heavy hitters that are already using AI as part of their solutions and services. Examples of businesses already integrating artificial intelligence cybersecurity tools include major industry players like:

  • Check Point
  • CrowdStrike
  • FireEye
  • Fortinet
  • LogRhythm
  • Palo Alto Networks
  • Sophos
  • Symantec

The downsides of artificial intelligence in cyber security: cost, resources, and training

Although there are many advantages to integrating artificial intelligence in cyber security, there are also disadvantages to be aware of. Among the chief challenges of implementing AI in cyber security is that it requires more resources and finances than traditional non-AI cyber security solutions.

In part, that’s because cyber security solutions that are built on AI frameworks — and those aren’t cheap. As such, they’ve historically been prohibitively expensive for many businesses — small to midsize businesses (SMBs) in particular. However, there are new security-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions that are making AI cyber security solutions more cost-effective for businesses. And, let’s just be realistic, it’s a lot cheaper to pay for effective cyber security solutions than it is to pay the fines, downtime, and other costs associated with successful cyberattacks

Dealing with the vulnerabilities that artificial intelligence cyber security tools create

The use of artificial intelligence in cyber security creates new threats to digital security. Just as AI technology can be used to more accurately identify and stop cyberattacks, the AI systems also can be used by cybercriminals to launch more sophisticated attacks. This is, in part, because access to advanced artificial intelligence solutions and machine learning tools are increasing as the costs of developing and adapting these technologies decreases. This means that more complex and adaptive malicious software can be created more easily and at lower cost to cybercriminals.

This combination of factors creates vulnerabilities for cybercriminals to exploit. Let’s consider the following example:

Imagine that one of your finance employees receives a phone call from “you.” In the call, “you” instruct them to transfer more than $2 million from the company’s account to a vendor or partner company. When they ask for verification, “you” assure them that it’s fine and for them to perform the transfer immediately so as to not hold up an important project. 

However, the problem is that you haven’t called them — nor did you tell them to send millions of dollars to another account. In fact, as it turns out, a cybercriminal used a combination of social engineering and “vishing,” or a voice phishing call, to your employee while pretending to be you. However, they took their attack to the next level by using artificial intelligence-based software that “learns” to mimic and “speak” using your voice. This means that even if the victim knows what you sound like, they’re more likely to fall for the scam because it actually sounds like you making the call.

But how is this possible? XinhuaNet reports that there are AI software programs that, after just 20 minutes of listening to your voice, is capable of “speaking” any typed message in your voice.

The hidden danger of artificial intelligence in cyber security

One of the less-acknowledged risks of artificial intelligence in cyber security concerns the human element of complacency. If your organization adopts AI and machine learning as part of their cyber security strategy, there’s a risk that your employees may be more willing to lower their guard. We don’t need to re-state the dangers of complacent and unaware employees as we’ve already talked about the importance of cyber security awareness many times.  

Adversarial AI: how hackers use your AI against you

Another risk of artificial intelligence in cyber security comes in the form of adversarial AI, a term used to refer to the development and use of AI for malicious purposes. Accenture identifies adversarial AI as something that “causes machine learning models to misinterpret inputs into the system and behave in a way that’s favorable to the attacker.” Essentially, this occurs when an AI system’s neural networks are tricked into misidentifying or misclassifying objects due to intentionally modified inputs. Let’s consider the example of a pair of sunglasses sitting on a table. A human eye would be able to see the image of the sunglasses. With adversarial AI, the sunglasses aren’t there.

What’s the purpose of doing that? Let’s replace the table-and-sunglasses scenario with a self-driving vehicle. Imagine what would happen if a hacker decided to create adversarial images of stop signs or red lights. The AI would no longer see these traffic signals and would risk maiming or killing the vehicle’s occupant(s) along with other drivers, pedestrians, etc. Or, imagine that a cybercriminal creates an adversarial image that can bypass facial recognition software. For example, an iPhone X’s “FaceID” access feature uses neural networks to recognize faces, making it susceptible to adversarial AI attacks. This would allow hackers to simply bypass the security feature and continue their assault without drawing attention. 

Without the right protections or defenses in place, the applications for cyber criminals could be virtually limitless. Thankfully, cyber security researchers recognize the risks associated with adversarial AI. They’re donning their white hats and are “building defenses and creating pre-emptive adversarial attack models to probe AI vulnerabilities,” according to an article in IBM’s Security Intelligence research blog. IBM’s Dublin labs is also involved in the effort and developed an adversarial AI library called the IBM Adversarial Robustness Toolbox (ART).

Final thoughts

Even with the negative aspects of the increasing use of artificial intelligence in cyber security, we still think the good outweighs the bad. After all, a human being simply can’t process the amount of data — at the necessary speed —that’s needed to keep your network and data safe. AI can — and it can do it without needing to sleep, eat, or take a vacation.

Of course, all of this isn’t to say that people aren’t still needed in cyber security. The human element is still integral to cyber security. This is why more and more industry experts are arguing that AI should be integrated into the systems within each business’s cyber security operation center (CSOC). The main message we want to drive home is that it’s imperative to ensure you have the appropriate systems, training, and resources in place to effectively manage and use AI cyber security solutions. This will help you to reduce the risks associated with using artificial intelligence security tools.

Updated on March 2, 2021


Casey Crane

Casey Crane is a regular contributor to and managing editor of Hashed Out. She has more than 15 years of experience in journalism and writing, including crime analysis and IT security. Casey also serves as the Content Manager at The SSL Store.