Image credits: Tara Winstead
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News Article

AI: Cybersecurity Applications & Threats

By Cinthya Alaniz Salazar | Tue, 09/28/2021 - 11:39

The traditional computing environment has changed with the convergence of information and operational technology systems (IT/OT) which combined inadvertently increase their susceptibility to cyberattacks, warns the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency. Without the man power needed to sift and identify threats, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is being increasingly utilized to combat the seemingly ever-growing rate of cyberattacks.

In just one year, ransomware attacks targeting OT increased by 41 percent globally, according to a report by Security Intelligence. Meanwhile, IoT targeted attacks skyrocketed by 700 percent (registration pending) during the pandemic, while infected IoT devices increased by 100 percent reports Zscaler. As reflected in the figures, OT and IoT devices are being targeted by hackers specifically because of their lax security and their failure to update or patch software between devices.

In order to combat this concerning trend, AI and its subcomponent Machine Learning (ML) are being used to combat a number of challenges the cybersecurity industry is facing, starting with network vulnerability surveillance and threat detection, which serve as the first line of defense against malware. Incident diagnosis identifies system vulnerabilities through predictive analysis while prescriptive analytics explains how to thwart or prevent a repeat incident. Finally, AI automatically compiles relevant data to provide a fully written cyberthreat intelligence report that identifies indicators and provides early warning of activities that should be monitored more closely. Holistically, these adaptations help mitigate the sectors global shortage of professionals while helping to reduce their volume of work.

Nevertheless, as a nascent sector, there are still limitations and foreseeable risks associated with AI such as errors and false positives but most concerning is the plausibility for hackers to manipulate and or weaponize it. The feasibility of such attack is so real that over 40 percent of executives have “extreme” or “major” concerns about AI threats related to cybersecurity, found a global survey conducted by Deloitte. Hackers could conceivably use AI to deceive a program or application to camouflage threat activities. More alarmingly still is its ML element, which could inversely be used by bad actors to fortify their own attacks and malware, notes a Forrester Research report. In light of this, businesses need to remain vigilant of inconspicuous malware embedded in their own AI systems.

Undoubtedly, as investment continues to pour into AI applications for cybersecurity, its capabilities will continue to grow. Thereby representing an excellent avenue for growth for companies and countries alike. Mexico, which has a booming domestic information and communications technology (ICT) sector, was forecasted to observe an additional 58 percent demand of AI specialists in 2021 alone, according to the HR Observatory. Moreover, if the country can successfully nurture the development of this sector it could catapult its GDP growth rate from its annual average of 2.4 percent to somewhere between 4.6 and 6.4 percent, according to a study by consulting firm Ducker Frontier.

Overall, we should expect artificial intelligence to continue to play a central role in cybersecurity; however, as a new and imperfect technology experts and businesses alike should remain cautious. 

The data used in this article was sourced from:  
CISA, Security Intelligence, Zscale, Deloitte, Forrestor Research, HR Observatory, Ducker Frontier
Photo by:   Tara Winstead
Cinthya Alaniz Salazar Cinthya Alaniz Salazar Journalist & Industry Analyst