Cyber threats seem to be increasing at an exponential rate lately, and the trend shows no signs of stopping. As old security holes are patched, new ones are continually being found, and it’s hard for the cybersecurity industry to keep up with all of this. As if the picture weren’t bleak enough, we now see the emergence of AI-enhanced cyber threats. How big is this threat at present? Is there potential for AI to enhance cyber threats even more in the future? Let’s discuss this matter a little more thoroughly.
Can AI Enhance Cyber Threats?
The simple answer is: Yes. AI can definitely be used to enhance existing cyber threats, and this has already happened a few times. In most cases that we have found so far, it seems that people are combining AI technology with botnet-based attacks (which have been around for a long time). Bots are already somewhat like an AI in the first place, but they normally lack the intelligence to act independently.
A botnet is basically just a network of hijacked devices, all of which are being used for their processing power. The owner of the compromised device is usually unaware of this, giving the hacker a greater degree of anonymity. Normally, these things can only do pre-arranged tasks according to a firm set of guidelines. When you add an AI general to control this little army of bots, you get something that is far more dangerous.
The good news is that we have not been able to find evidence of many AI-enhanced cyber threats as of yet. As we said, most of the incidents we found were related to botnet hacking, and there weren’t many of them. That being said, hackers have already seen that this idea works, so there is little chance that these kinds of threats will go away.
Ways In Which AI Can Enhance Cyber Threats
We have already mentioned the concept of botnet enhancement, and those are the only AI-enhanced cyber-attacks that we have seen thus far. However, there is plenty of reason to believe that other common hacking tools can be augmented in this way. For instance, let’s consider the classic phishing email.
Phishing emails are messages that are used as a trap in order to hack you. Usually, they will try to get you to click on a link that leads to a capture page. It is possible to embed any web page with scripts that track the IP addresses of every visitor. They can also be equipped with keyloggers to capture anything that is typed on the page. An AI could potentially be used to make these things more dangerous by auto-deleting the message after a certain time. This would make it more difficult for authorities to trace back such a phishing email to the perpetrator.
Password cracking is another mainstay of the hacking world, although it only works on weak-ish passwords. Normally, password-cracking software works by taking a whole lot of random guesses. However, there is every reason to believe that an AI could be used to narrow the field more quickly. They can predict patterns far better than one of these programs could ever do alone.
Another potential problem could come from the ability to automate hacking attacks. Instead of trying to get one or a few people at once, hackers could potentially target hundreds or even thousands of victims at once. By training an AI to do the same things they themselves would normally do, a hacker can multiply their reach greatly. With so many attempts, their chances of success would also go up quite a bit.
Ways In Which AI Can Aid Cybersecurity
Thankfully, the picture is not completely negative. Just as AI can be used to enhance cyber threats, it can also be used to enhance cyber defense. In fact, some would say that AI has a lot more potential in this department. Why would they say that? Well, it’s because the current cybersecurity landscape requires a lot of monitoring.
There are ways to defeat most cyber threats out there, but most of those ways require vigilance and/or quick action in response to a threat. Realistically, there is no way that one can maintain that level of readiness all the time. The only exception might be a group of people that already maintain extreme discipline and readiness (like the military, for instance). However, most people cannot and will not stay on the lookout all the time.
That’s where AI comes into play. By automating the functions of standard antivirus programs, you can make them a lot more effective. There are already a few products of this type on the market, and that is good because most AV software these days is useless and toothless. AI enhancement, however, opens up the possibility of great improvement. Any of the standard antivirus functions can be automated and directed by an AI.
There is also some potential for the use of “smart firewalls.” Firewalls are still one of the best protective measures out there, but they have to be configured properly in order to work. Many people just don’t know how to use them effectively, but an AI could take a lot of that guesswork out of the picture. In both of the examples we have given, the AI removes the need for individual expertise and lets the program run itself properly.
Whether it turns out to be a good thing or a bad thing, AI is definitely here to stay. What was once a novelty is quickly becoming a part of our everyday lives. As such, we can either use it to our advantage or watch as others do the same. Personally, we here at PCH Technologies feel that it’s better to embrace this technology and use it for good. In this way, it becomes easier to counter those who use it for evil. For more information, please feel free to call (856) 754-7500.