AI as a Friend and Foe in Cybersecurity

Artificial Intelligence (AI), oncetopic more talked about than actually used, has dramatically shifted fromspeculative idea to an integral part of our daily lives in recent years. Whether it's generating text, creating images, or enhancing user experiences online, AI's omnipresence is undeniable. Given its importance, this article aims to highlight the specific role of AI in cybersecurity, an area where its potential and challenges reach new heights...

5 Apr 2024 Pavel Brejcha Threats

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Benefits of AI

In cybersecurity, AI provides crucial support in recognizing and evaluating cyber attacks, enabling the isolation of affected systems to prevent the spread of malware. AI effectively enhances defenses against common threats and learns from past incidents. However, it's crucial to note that AI does not replace security experts but instead allows them to focus on more complex challenges, such as zero-day attacks exploiting unknown vulnerabilities.

A zero-day attack is a type of cyber attack that exploits a vulnerability in software or a system unknown to the software developers, meaning there is no fix (patch) available. Attackers discover and exploit these vulnerabilities before they are identified and rectified. Since these are "newly discovered" threats, traditional security tools often fail to recognize them, making zero-day attacks particularly dangerous.

AI also excels in phishing attack detection. Machine learning algorithms that analyze the content and structure of emails can identify potential phishing attempts. These algorithms continuously learn from vast datasets, becoming increasingly adept at recognizing patterns and anomalies typical of phishing attacks. Besides analyzing email content, AI monitors user behavior, such as clicking on suspicious links or entering personal information, and alerts the security team to these activities.

Another area where AI brings innovation is in identifying unknown malware variants. Traditional antivirus programs rely on known virus signatures, whereas AI can detect the latest and previously unidentified threats by analyzing software behavior.

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Artificial intelligence thus becomes an indispensable ally in cybersecurity. Its ability to learn from past incidents and adapt to emerging threats makes itkey player in protecting digital assets. By easing the workload of security experts, AI increases the overall level of defense and preparedness for potential attacks, contributing to a safer cyber environment for all.

Negatives of AI

The potential biggest problems AI introduces to cybersecurity include:

Generating Malicious Code

AI allows even those without deep technical knowledge to create malicious software. Although AI tools typically have safeguards against creating malicious code, attackers find ways to bypass these security measures.

Automating and Scaling Attacks

AI enables attackers to simultaneously automate attacks and carry them out againstwide range of targets. This means attacks can be more massive, faster, and more complex.

AI Tools for Cybercriminals

There are AI tools designed explicitly for cyber attackers that bypass security measures and are available forhigher price. These tools allow criminals to conduct more sophisticated attacks.

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Diverse Approaches of Attackers

Sophos conducted detailed research on cybercriminal forums to understand attackers' approach to using AI. The analysis reveals divided opinions among attackers about AI's role in their activities. Some consider AI technology not yet mature enough, using it only for simple programming tasks to focus on more complex challenges. However, most cybercriminals use AI primarily for experimentation and trying new approaches. Cybercriminals are hesitant to adopt AI on a massive scale in practice until technologies are advanced enough to meet their specific needs.

Additionally, AI has the potential to significantly assist attackers in generating phishing emails. Advanced artificial intelligence algorithms can analyze vast amounts of data from publicly available sources or previous attacks to create convincing, personalized messages more likely to deceive recipients. These techniques allow attackers to automate the creation of emails tailored to specific victim groups, increasing the efficiency of phishing campaigns and reducing the time and effort needed for their preparation. As a result, phishing attacks become more sophisticated and harder to detect, increasing their success rate.

In conclusion

One thing is clear: artificial intelligence (AI) is on both fronts in the battle for cybersecurity. Currently, AI supports and relieves human forces from routine tasks and allows experts to focus on more complex challenges that technology cannot yet solve. Although cybercriminals have not yet massively abused AI, the rapid development of technologies suggests that the future may bring significant changes. Perhaps AI will play a key role in cybersecurity sooner than we can imagine. Let's, therefore, prepare forfuture where AI is not just an assistant but becomescritical player in both cyber defense and attack.

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