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How is artificial intelligence changing the cyber landscape?

As organizations scramble to digitalize and automate processes, they enter an ever expanding landscape of cyber threats and risks. Now, the race is heading toward a future dictated by AI technology for both cyber attackers and cyber security experts. As it stands, organizations are unprepared for and uneducated about the sophistication of these cyber attacks. Cylera's Chief Security Strategist, Richard Staynings, shares his insights for the future of this AI driven cyber battle. 

The Evolution of Offensive AI

AI technology has become the hottest commodity for the advancement of technology across the board. But these improved methods are also available to those with malicious intentions. AI tools now allow for criminals to more easily compromise and steal someone's identity. The concept that still images can be altered easily is widely known and accepted, but video and audio deepfakes are a step up from photoshopped pictures and are much less commonly acknowledged. 

For example, CEO Fraud is a scam in which cybercriminals use AI to emulate the voice of the CEO and convincingly impersonate executives in order to authorize wire transfers from their accounting departments. The FBI calls this type of scam "Business Email Compromise." According to FBI statistics, CEO fraud is now a $26 billion scam. Between May 2018 and July 2019, there was a 100% increase in identified global exposed losses. The scam has been reported in all 50 states and in 150 countries.

"What if a cybercriminal were to use such deepfake technology to impersonate an influential political figure? If such an attempt was successful, it would potentially cause repercussions on a global scale. 

Beyond deepfakes, AI technology has evolved to such a degree that malicious AI driven attacks can mutate themselves in response to their environment. These attack codes can understand the context in a way that renders traditional security controls impotent. They can impersonate trusted users or disguise themselves and blend into the background to circumvent security measures, all without needing constant direction or input from humans. 

Nation state actors can use these AI technologies to exert political, economic, and military pressure to execute their agendas. They can destabilize the pillars of trust in society by undermining political institutions; a recent acclaimed documentary showed how easy it is to hack the US elections. 

AI in Healthcare

In the advent of the pandemic, nation state actors backed by Russia and China were able to steal COVID research data from pharmaceutical companies and biomedical research labs, not to mention the vast amount of patient data compromised because of these nefarious cyber attacks.

This is especially concerning when you consider that healthcare professionals are increasingly relying on this data and technology to make decisions about patient care. There has been an explosion in the number of connected medical IoT devices that are vulnerable to attack. AI is being used in the industry to assess large pools of historic data to statistically predict patient outcomes. Radiology departments also use AI to enhance x-ray and CT scans hoping to catch the indication of cancer cells forming before they actually become a tumor. 

AI based integrity attacks are a serious threat to patient safety. What happens when medical records or devices are tampered with? If these tools are compromised and physicians make diagnosis based on incorrect data, the consequences are life threatening. Just last year, a hacker attack caused the failure of IT systems at a major hospital in Duesseldorf, and a woman who needed urgent admission died on route while being transferred to another hospital.

Heathcare delivery organizations cannot afford to suffer such disastrous incidents, they must take the necessary steps and precautions to mitigate risk.

Defensive AI

On the other side of the battlefield, cybersecurity is also incorporating AI technology to defend against cyber criminals. AI tools are used to identify and assess the growing pool of connected IoT devices, completing behavioral analyses and systems anomaly detection. AI powered responses to cyber attacks far outpace human response teams, and these nano-second actions will be key to prevent the spread and effects of the attacks.

However, this would require heavy investment into these new tools and capabilities. Individual HDOs face budget constraints, and larger organizations are held back by a lack of understanding which stifles their sense of urgency. Executives are often unaware of how serious a threat cyber attacks can be and therefore do not prioritize cybersecurity. 

As it stands, the AI threat landscape is rapidly developing and changing at a rate that far exceeds most organizations' understanding. Proactive action to implement defense and curb the potential risk is the only way to begin catching up to the trend. 

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