When industry pundits talk about emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), the cloud and big data, they are quick to talk about multiple business benefits—better customer service, improved employee satisfaction and sales results, among others. What they neglect to mention is one of the most critical uses of AI and all of these next-gen technologies: They make it easier to defend an organization against cyberattacks on a massive scale.
In fact, the cloud and AI make it possible for organizations to adapt using smart algorithms so that they can better defend against attacks that are coming at unrelentingly with speed and accuracy, says Rajarshi Gupta, the VP of Data Science at Avast. "Today, cybersecurity is all about building very smart machines that can identify and block attacks really, really fast."
Adds Avast CEO Vince Steckler, “The serious threat for the future is the one we have not seen before. And those are very difficult to encapsulate in a traditional security product, [and] that is where AI comes in.”
The cloud, for example, makes it easier to aggregate data, bringing it together so it’s unnecessary to scan multiple databases which lengthens the time it takes to detect threats. Once data is together in one place, it can be quickly analyzed by AI for both zero-day and existing threats. Trends and behaviors that may have gone unnoticed or slipped under the radar can be highlighted, giving security professionals the ability to identify and remediate at unprecedented speed. For instance, the Avast security cloud checks several hundred billion URLs and hundreds of millions of new files monthly for anomalies—scale that just wouldn’t be possible in an on-premises implementation or for someone working manually on detecting issues.
Big data also helps those in the security industry create baselines and benchmarks. This is important because these metrics give AI something to check against. After all, you can’t secure what you don’t know exists. In this case, big data creates the ability to look into what’s normal and expected so AI can uncover what is not. “We use artificial intelligence and machine learning to analyze all the data [a user] sees and all the files they execute and use that to protect them,” says Gupta.
Of course, with every new technology there are drawbacks. In the case of next-gen options, increased risk is a possibility. The cloud, for instance, creates more potential entry points for cybercriminals. And while AI and machine learning are wonderful tools, the bad guys know this too and are also making use of them. Cybercriminals, according to experts, are tapping AI to find the best companies to target, which attack vectors to use and when to launch their attacks. They can use AI to mine public data and information sold on the dark web for additional clues into the best targets.
“We’ve come to the point where cybersecurity is a large commercial, industrialized operation,” explains Gupta. “People are hacking other computers for very large sums of money… Attackers today are using automated tools to attack millions of devices all at once.”
Steckler points to the widening network of devices and the cloud as another opportunity for cybercriminals. “Things are different now because everything is very interconnected in an IoT [Internet of Things] world,” he says. “And when you have this interconnectedness, it is easy for malware to spread quickly, targeting more and more consumers as well as business.”
Still, as long as cybersecurity providers can use the same technology to help consumers and companies protect themselves and remain vigilant, the risk of new technologies is less significant than the potential benefits. “Business leaders are clear-eyed about new risks tied to emerging technologies. GSISS [Global State of Information Security Survey] respondents recognize that a successful cyberattack on automated or robotic systems could have major consequences, including the disruption of operations, the compromise of sensitive data, and damage to product quality,” writes PwC in its 2018 information security survey.
Adds Gupta: “With the power of artificial intelligence, we can magnify our abilities and stay ahead of the cybercriminals.”