Online security is one of those things that require careful attention and constant vigilance. With this being the case, it is no wonder that some people are turning to AI as a way to automate the process. Of course, there is a question of how effective those AI-based methods are and whether or not they are worth the trouble. There are definitely some ways in which AI can help to protect your email and network better, so let’s explore the subject a little further.
The Advantages Of Machine Learning
One of the main things that separate an AI from a regular computer is its ability to learn. Obviously, it cannot learn as well as a human (yet), but it can certainly learn to recognize patterns and signs. This shouldn’t be surprising because pattern-based learning can also be observed in animals, so it doesn’t take an advanced level of intelligence to do that.
For instance, if a mouse encounters a cat, that cat will probably try to attack the mouse. Thus, based on this pattern of experience, mice learn to stay away from cats whenever possible. In the same kind of way, an AI can analyze threats that have been detected in the past and use them to establish “red-flag” patterns. It might be a link to a website that fits a suspicious profile, incoming connections from a suspicious server, an excessive amount of password guessing attempts, or any number of other things.
When it comes to malware detection, machine learning tends to be pretty effective. This is because new malware is often just a slight variation of older malware. Unless the hackers have completely rewritten the code (which they usually don’t), an AI can probably detect a new threat. Not only that, but an AI can also analyze user behavior and build a profile based on that data. When something happens that is way outside that normal pattern of behavior, an AI can immediately recognize it as a potential threat.
That is where we come to the heart of the matter: It’s easy for security software to detect known threats, but unknown threats are the real danger. Hackers and other cyber criminals tend to change their methods quite frequently, but machine learning offers the chance to detect those unknown threats. The thought of being able to cut off a brand new threat before it even becomes a problem is very promising, indeed.
Using AI To Defeat Phishing Emails
Although people and companies have come up with many cybersecurity solutions, the simplest attacks are still the most likely to succeed. The simplest cyberattacks are usually the ones that rely on “social engineering.” That is just a way of saying that they manipulate the user rather than the technology. The most common example of this is probably the phishing email method.
It works like this: The hacker sends you an email that appears to be from a trustworthy source. They will probably try to mimic the appearance of that company’s legitimate emails (like headers, banners, logos, etc.), but they rarely get it 100% right. There will almost always be tiny differences that you can spot, unless the hacker is very skillful, indeed. That’s when a predictive AI-based solution becomes your only real shot at spotting this threat.
This whole thing works by training an AI to spot bad emails. They are shown many examples of phishing emails, and they can analyze them at length (and in great detail). After a while, they can learn to recognize the elements of a fake email and issue an alert to the recipient. In most cases, phishing emails work by using a “boobytrapped” link. The link takes the user to a webpage, and that webpage will have all sorts of trackers and scripts that can capture information about the user.
In particular, they like to trick people into entering usernames and passwords on this site, which are then captured by a keystroke logger. These scripts, trackers, and loggers are not visible to you and me, but an AI can spot them instantly and warn you before you enter your private information.
Cybercriminals Can Also Use AI-Based Methods
AI can indeed be a powerful weapon in the fight against cybercrime. However, criminals also have access to these tools and can use them for malicious purposes. Although there haven’t yet been many detected examples of AI-based malware, all the most reputable cybersecurity professionals have been warning about this kind of threat.
A lot of people are sounding alarms because they are trying to stay ahead of the hackers. When they see an emerging trend like this one, they already know that it will be exploited until the loophole is closed. There have already been a number of high-profile cyberattacks that used AI in some way or another. For example, odd-job site Taskrabbit was hacked in 2018, and the data of about 3.75 million people was compromised. To carry out this attack, hackers used a botnet powered by an AI, meaning that they have figured out how to incorporate artificial intelligence into their existing methods.
For those who don’t know, a botnet is a network of devices that have been covertly hijacked with malware. Your computer, phone, or tablet could be a part of someone’s botnet right now, and without your knowledge. By using the collective computing resources of all these devices, hackers can carry out their attacks with greater speed and anonymity. When you add an AI-based controller to a botnet, the threat goes up to a whole new level…and that’s exactly the kind of approach that was used to hack Taskrabbit.
At PCH Technologies, we believe in the importance of preventive security. That’s why we want everyone to be aware of the ways in which AI is changing the cybersecurity landscape. We have already seen that it can be used for both offense and defense, much like any other tool. If you would like to know more, please call us at (856) 754-7500.