Fighting AI attacks: How to protect data and systems | SITS
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Fighting AI attacks: How to protect data and systems
The curse and blessing of artificial intelligence: Both security tools and hackers use AI for their own purposes.
7 minutes
April 16, 2024

Even the most sceptical have realized this by now: There is no way around artificial intelligence. Whether it’s chatbots in customer service, predictive maintenance in industry, fraud detection in finance, credit risk assessment, voice assistants or smart home applications: the list of AI assistance is almost endless, and with technological advances and the increasing availability of data, new areas of application are constantly opening up. In this context, the same applies to IT security as to other areas: AI is both a curse and a blessing. It helps to make systems more secure, but is also increasingly being used in cyber attacks. It is time to focus on defensive tactics that stand up to new, AI-based attack methods.

AI in corporate use: a classification

AI in corporate use: a classification

  • According to Next Move Strategy Consulting, the market for artificial intelligence will – unsurprisingly – be characterized by strong growth over the next ten years: The current value of almost 100 billion US dollars is expected to increase twenty-fold to almost two trillion US dollars by 2030.
  • According to LearnBonds, sales of AI software will rise to over 126 billion US dollars by 2025, compared to 22.6 billion US dollars in 2020. One in five employees will have to hand over some of their tasks to AI.
  • A McKinsey analysis has also found that AI technologies have the potential to increase global economic output by an average of 1.2 percent per year by 2030.
  • According to the ifo Institute, 13.3% of companies in Germany currently use AI and 9.2% are planning to use it. A further 36.7% of the companies surveyed are discussing possible application scenarios.
  • The most common use cases for AI in companies include automating business processes, analyzing data for decision-making and improving product quality and performance.
  • At the same time, however, many fear the negative consequences of the AI wave: almost two thirds of Germans are concerned that the use of AI could lead to job losses. According to YouGov, a total of 45% of Germans are skeptical about the use of artificial intelligence.

Another negative aspect that can go hand in hand with the use of AI, alongside many positive achievements, are increasing and ever more dangerous cyber attacks. In the past, a high level of IT expertise, a lot of time and effort were often required to launch an attack, but today, with the help of AI, even non-experts can become hackers with just a few clicks. Companies and authorities are called upon to face up to this development.

Advantages of AI for Cybersecurity:

  1. Improved threat analysis
  2. Optimized identification of attack precursors
  3. Improved access control and password practices
  4. Minimization and prioritization of risks
  5. Automated threat detection
  6. Improved efficiency and effectiveness of employees

Disadvantages of AI for Cybersecurity

  1. Challenges regarding reliability and accuracy
  2. Concerns about data protection and security
  3. Lack of transparency
  4. Distortion of training data and algorithms

How is AI used by cyber criminals?

Social engineers use AI to initiate more precise phishing strategies and deepfakes. Hackers are using AI-supported password guessing and cracking CAPTCHA to gain unauthorized access to sensitive data. Today’s attackers are moving so efficiently and using new methods that companies often struggle to automate controls and install security patches to keep up. What you need is a continuous threat management program that detects and actively prioritizes the biggest threats. AI is the basis for many new attack methods and tactics, which are also increasingly automated, so hackers are now operating more broadly and at scale than ever before.

These AI-generated attack models are coming into focus:

  • Phishing and Social Engineering: AI is used to create personalized and convincing phishing emails. These can entice employees to disclose sensitive information or open malicious links.
  • Adversarial Attacks: Criminals can use AI to generate specially manipulated data that causes AI systems, such as image recognition tools or security mechanisms, to make incorrect or unexpected decisions.
  • Automated Attacks: AI-driven bots can automatically detect vulnerabilities in systems, exploit exploits and carry out attacks – without any human intervention.
  • Detection of security vulnerabilities: AI can be used to analyze large amounts of data and identify potential security vulnerabilities in systems or networks, which are then exploited for attacks.
  • Obfuscation of malware: AI helps to develop malware that is difficult to detect because it adapts its characteristics to the environment or changes on its own to circumvent conventional security mechanisms.

The major advantage is that companies can also use artificial intelligence for their own purposes and beat hackers at their own game, as AI can also be used to defend systems and data. With the help of innovative AI tools, many attacks can be detected early and countermeasures can be taken automatically to minimize the impact. Examples include the aforementioned improved access controls, threat analyses and prioritization of risks.

How can companies protect themselves against AI-supported attacks?

A single solution or firewall is not enough: if you really want to protect your systems, data or employees from AI-supported attacks in the long term, you need a combination of technical solutions, training and proactive security strategies. On the one hand, the workforce must be sensitized to the risks of AI-supported attacks in special security awareness training courses. Employees should be able to recognize suspicious activities and react appropriately. In addition, clear security guidelines and procedures must be implemented for dealing with AI technologies and potential attacks. This includes guidelines for accessing sensitive data, using AI tools and dealing with suspicious activities. In addition, network traffic, system activities and other indicators of potential attacks must be continuously monitored and analyzed in order to detect and prevent suspicious activities at an early stage.

Another aspect are technical security measures: These include tools for detecting and defending against attacks, including intrusion detection systems (IDS), intrusion prevention systems (IPS), firewalls, antivirus software and endpoint security solutions. Regular software and operating system updates help to close security gaps and minimize potential points of attack. Attack simulations and penetration tests also help to test the company’s resistance to AI-supported attacks and identify vulnerabilities. Another part of the holistic security strategy is undoubtedly close cooperation and consultation with other organizations, government agencies and other stakeholders. Discussions and meetings can be used to exchange information about new threats and attack techniques as well as best practices and to learn from the experiences of others.

Continuous Threat Exposure Management (CTEM)

When it comes to defending against AI-generated cyber attacks, sooner or later the term Continuous Threat Exposure Management (CTEM) comes up. With the help of such an approach, organizations prepare themselves for constantly changing security threats and develop fast and efficient response options. CTEM supports the continuous monitoring and evaluation of threats and security risks. The goal is to constantly re-evaluate, control and contain an organization’s exposure to potential threats and vulnerabilities. In contrast to traditional approaches to security monitoring, which are often based on reactive measures, CTEM focuses on proactive and continuous monitoring to identify and address potential threats at an early stage.

``Gartner predicts that companies that prioritize their cybersecurity investments based on a CTEM program will see cybersecurity breaches drop by more than 60 percent by 2026.``

Five key points: How to successfully defend against AI-supported cyber attacks

  1. Use 24/7 monitoring. First of all, organizations should continuously monitor their networks, systems, applications and data, as this is the only way to identify potential security threats at an early stage.
  2. Evaluate and prioritize risks. Security risks should be analyzed and prioritized based on their threat potential, potential impact and likelihood of attack in order to allocate resources effectively and focus on the most important threats.
  3. Automate processes. Innovative automation solutions and advanced analytics techniques such as machine learning and artificial intelligence can be used to process large volumes of security data and identify unusual, anomalous activity.
  4. Integrate threat data. By bringing together data from multiple sources, such as security information and events (SIEM), threat intelligence and vulnerability management, you get a comprehensive picture of the security situation.
  5. Plan for continuous adjustments. Constant adjustments and improvements are important to respond to changing threat landscapes and new security risks – especially with fast-moving AI, where new approaches can emerge almost daily.

CTEM covers all of the above and helps organizations to improve their security practices, shorten response times to security incidents and minimize the risk of security breaches and data loss.

AI will play an increasingly important role in cybersecurity in the future. It has the potential to support IT and security experts, drive innovation and improve information security. At the same time, however, organizations are called upon to put cyber criminals who use AI for their own purposes in their place. It is the decisions we can make as humans that determine whether AI acts as a “good guy” or a “bad guy”.

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