AI in Cybersecurity: A Friend or a Foe?

By Hannah Smith , Jul 29, 2019 10:55 AM EDT

The cybersecurity landscape is always evolving to stay a step ahead of the threats. These changes come in both big and small packages, the latest of which is a potential game-changer. This exciting new development in artificial intelligence.

AI isn't some new and unfamiliar newcomer to cybersecurity. It's been present in one form or another in many cybersecurity practices. However, the world is on the brink of a technological revolution in which artificial intelligence will play an increasingly larger role. This is true for cybersecurity as well, where AI will help analysts improve their predictions and response times.

This technology isn't some far-off future concept; it's already here. Companies and security firms are using it right now to help secure their systems against the continuous onslaught of online attacks. There are undeniable benefits to this approach, given the sheer amount of data that AI can handle. It's like having a super hard-working employee that never sleeps.

But crime doesn't sleep either. With the adoption of AI in cybersecurity, the hackers of the world are finding their own creative ways to make use of the technology. It's a fine balancing act hung on a high, thin wire. What happens on the one side is bound to have a resounding effect on the other. And with the power of AI, that effect could prove catastrophic.

The Benefits of AI-Driven Cybersecurity

Right now, security analysts are struggling to keep up with the volume of threats and alerts coming from online attacks. Large companies spend millions to keep their data safe, but smaller companies are bereft of many options. At least, options that could keep up with the expansive array of threats out there.

By taking advantage of the capabilities of AI, businesses can transform their security efforts. Artificial intelligence can absorb billions of cybersecurity papers, blogs, and news posts to improve its understanding of the cyber risks out there. The software then uses these insights to provide a calculated analysis of the threats a business faces in mere minutes. Which allows the business to respond at a much faster rate.

This doesn't just have an impact on the private sector either, but can provide resounding benefits for vital parts of society as well. For instance, both hospitals and government departments are facing crippling ransomware attacks that need to be addressed.

Using AI Also Means an Exponential Increase in Risk

Unfortunately, the benefits that AI provides to companies can be quickly turned around and used against them as well. By adopting AI, cybercriminals can work faster, avoid detection, and change malware in a number of ways.

Hackers can use this technology to adapt to current cybersecurity practices and bypass their defenses quickly. Resulting in a much higher success ratio because it's much harder to detect them. For example, metamorphic and polymorphic malware constantly change their code to keep from being detected. Finding and handling these types of threats is already a humongous task. With the addition of AI to boost those malicious efforts, that task might seem near impossible to accomplish.

Furthermore, those working in cybersecurity will need to start defending against autonomous AI-powered malware as well. Hackers are flocking to this type of malware because it requires much less effort on their part but yields great results. AI-powered malware enables cybercriminals to create targeted attacks on a much larger scale. For instance, stolen data can be analyzed more efficiently, resulting in more personalized email attacks.

At the Forefront of Current Cybersecurity Measures

To cope with this looming threat, businesses and individuals alike will have to take steps to protect their data. Employing AI alone will not be enough to cope with these new developments in cyber risks. Plus, AI is a very expensive resource (for now), and not everyone has access to costly security tools or experts. So here are some things that everyone should be doing right now to minimize their chances of becoming a target.

Use Password Managers: Password managers can help protect people's accounts by providing a secure way to remember and enter passwords on sites and apps. There are plenty of free and paid options out there.

Install a Good Antivirus Program: An antivirus is the first line of defense against cyberattacks like malware and trojans.

Get a VPN: Virtual private networks protect a connection by encrypting all of the data traveling through it. The best way to find a reliable VPN is to look at what others have to say. Check out a NordVPN review, for instance, to see what the service has to offer and whether it will get the job done.

Use Encryption Software: Cryptography software is used to protect any data that's stored on a computer or device. Outsiders cannot access this data without the correct key, which they won't have. 

Activate 2FA: Two-factor authentication helps provide another layer of protection against account breaches. It works even if a person's password has been stolen in a data breach.

The Bottom Line

In the end, it's hard to define AI in cybersecurity as either friend or foe. The technology easily fits into both categories and will be used by both defenders and attackers alike. As is the case in real-world war, those who employ the best strategies with the fastest response times will win. Artificial intelligence provides a leg-up to those who employ it now, but eventually, it will level the battlefield once again. 

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