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Cyber-lockdown: How cyber-crooks are exploiting AI/ML technologies for their own advantage

(Image credit: Image Credit: Razum / Shutterstock)

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are playing an increasing role in cybersecurity.  These security tools can be used to analyse data from millions of cyber-incidents, to identify potential threats – such as an employee clicking on phishing links, or a new variant of malware.

With the UK lockdown and more people than ever working remotely, it’s never been more important for employers to leverage AI and ML tools to maintain cyber-resilience. Despite the increase in adoption rates for these technologies, new research has found that more than half of IT decision makers do not fully understand the benefits of these tools. What’s more surprising is nearly three quarters (74 per cent) of IT decision makers worldwide really didn’t care whether they’re using AI or ML – as long as the tools they use are effective in preventing attacks.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning tools could go a long way in the fight against cybercrime. But these technologies aren't a silver bullet. They could easily be exploited by malicious hackers –especially when IT decision makers do not understand them fully.

As criminals continue to find new and innovative ways to attack businesses and home users, we need to do all that we can to stop these threats from taking place. And this starts by understanding the threats and the most effective and efficient ways to stop them in their tracks.

But realistically, we can’t expect to stop sophisticated attacks if more than half of IT decision makers don’t understand AI/ML-based cybersecurity tools. We need to do better with our cyber-resilience plans.

Understanding the problem

It’s clear from these findings that there is still a lot of confusion around artificial intelligence and machine learning, especially in terms of these technologies in business cybersecurity. Nearly three in five (59 per cent) admit they are somewhat to very uncertain about what capabilities they are getting out of their AI/ML-based cybersecurity tools.

On top of this confusion, a further 70 per cent of respondents believe cybersecurity vendors’ marketing is intentionally deceptive about their AI/ machine learning based services. But a nearly equal number of respondents (72 per cent) consider it very important when selecting a new cybersecurity tool that the vendor advertises its use of AI or ML. So, why do so many people hold these conflicting views?

The stark differences in these findings highlight IT decision makers’ desire to use whatever means necessary to effectively protect their organisations – even if it means embracing technologies they don’t understand. This uncertainty also highlights a lack of knowledge regarding the use cases and capabilities of AI/ML, which may be heightened by the need to keep up with the latest technology.

And despite a small amount of regional variance, the overall results of this survey indicated a relatively even amount of scepticism across all geographies— with respect to how much of a benefit AI/ML brings.

AI/ML does have a significant buzzword appeal in the security industry right now, so it’s hard to know what’s accurate. Science fiction isn’t doing us any favours either. We do not have robots with human like brain or equal like intelligence walking around the office advising our executives. While C3PO is absolutely the future and we’re on that path, it’s just not there yet. Machine learning is Artificial Intelligence that is improving its own ability for its designed task. Machine learning right now is for data aggregation - it helps find patterns in large data sets. This is valuable in cybersecurity where we have an information and data problem. We’re only going to be handling more and more data at an exponential rate. It’s an issue that can’t be solved with more humans.  AI/ML can catch the low hanging fruit while humans can work on more complex problems.

AI and ML matter because automation matters

Also, with the help of artificial intelligence and machine learning, data is mined, and various patterns based on past trends are drawn out. These trends help in making decisions concerning the present and the future. 

As we’ve all had to adjust to “the new normal,” IT professionals have had to tackle a variety of challenges. Not only do they need to figure out how to support a massive shift with working from home, but they also have to deal with the onslaught of opportunistic online scams and other cyberattacks that have surged amidst the chaos around Covid-19.

With all of us adapting to these new working conditions, it’s become clear tools that enable automation and productivity so we can bounce back from any threat are very important. It is crucial that professionals understand the benefits behind AI and ML technology.

In addition to how AI/ML-based cybersecurity can accelerate threat detection, and even predict shifts and emerging threat sources, these technologies can also make your workforce more efficient, more effective, and more confident.

This is because machine learning and artificial intelligence are data-driven approaches that make decisions with no explicit programming involved. With the help of artificial intelligence, processes are automated, making the business activity free from any human intervention and bias. 

A solution for the future

This lack of understanding points to one obvious solution: education.

Continuous education and increased awareness of the benefits that these technologies bring across the industry is central to becoming more resilient against cyberattacks and other IT challenges.

And through vetting and partnering with cybersecurity vendors who have long-standing experience using and developing AI/ML, and who can provide expert guidance, businesses will achieve the highest levels of cyber-resilience. Plus, they will effectively maximise the capabilities of the human analysts on their teams.

Overall, as IT decision makers become more knowledgeable about what works best for their organisations, investment in these capabilities will begin to pay off. As a result, organisations will be more resilient in the face of evolving cyberattacks and business needs.

Tyler Moffitt, Security Analyst, Webroot