Microsoft recently acknowledged Russian hackers successfully cyberattacked them. If hackers can penetrate their internal systems, what are the chances your company will suffer the consequences of a future hack?
What the Russians have done is very bad, but it’s only an example of the cyber threats we all face. The cyber threat world is an arms race. The hackers are starting to use AI, and the only way to successfully defend against future threats is for your company to use AI as well.
Imagine you are about to attend a board meeting at the company headquarters (after you’ve been vaccinated.) You park your Tesla in the company parking lot. Unbeknownst to you, cybercriminals have hacked your car (yes, Teslas get hacked).
Now that your car is in range of the company’s wireless network, the hacker could gain access to the company’s corporate network. You walk into the board meeting, having unwittingly enabled a breach of security.
Attacks of this nature are becoming more commonplace. The challenge is that your cybersecurity systems never anticipated having to block a Tesla. The hacker can enter the network in a way no one on your security team considered.
No one can anticipate all possible ways of attacking a company. The problem is too big for humans to address. There are too many potential entry points and too many possible ways of attacking, and too much data to analyze. It turns out that AI is exceptionally well-suited to solve this kind of problem, and most companies are using some AI for their cybersecurity. That’s the good news.
Let’s look at the other side of this equation – here are some ways attackers are using AI to their advantage.
- AI is being used to impersonate trusted users. That email you just received from the CFO — do you know if it’s really from them or not? Should you act on the information they requested if you’re not sure? AI can replicate the tone, language, and style of a user to the point where you won’t be sure it’s from them or not. AI has been used to impersonate others not just in an email but also in voicemail and video.
- AI is being used to modify training data to enable future attacks. Your company needs training data to teach your AI-enabled cybersecurity software. AI-enabled attackers are quietly changing the data you are using to train your systems so they can attack you even after you install AI defenses. Now, your AI-based cybersecurity might just have been modified to help the attackers.
- AI is being used to disguise itself inside your systems by learning the communication methods, ports, and protocols most commonly used within the company. This type of AI starts small and slowly, so it’s nearly impossible to notice. Once AI is stealthily in your systems, you can be suffering loss or manipulation of data without your knowledge.
- AI-enabled criminals can launch autonomous attacks in mass volume just on your company. AI is continuously evolving and learning about how your company defends itself. The attacks will increase in volume and sophistication as you respond. Unless your AI is better than the criminals, they will find a way in.
What is a senior executive to do? Here are some key questions and issues to explore:
We are probably using ai for threat detection. What about prediction and response?
Vendors are designing the next wave of AI to get ahead of the cybercriminals and respond quickly and sufficiently enough when they attack. What is your company doing to get ahead? Companies to investigate include Vade Secure and CrowdStrike.
Consider yourself a juicy target of cybercriminals. Educate yourself on how to protect you, your systems, and your communications.
It’s obvious to a criminal that you, as a senior executive, are involved in decisions of the highest import. If an AI-based criminal could spy on your communications that could be the most valuable information they could gather. For example, the ubiquitous Polycom speakerphone, used in boardrooms across the globe, was recently hacked. The hackers were able to listen in on boardroom discussions without the knowledge of the board. We can only imagine how many stock trades were made once hackers stole that information. A company to investigate includes Darktrace.
Determine if you are comfortable with the company’s overall cybersecurity strategy. Ask how the company is investing in AI-enabled cybersecurity. Discuss the types of threats and whether or not your personnel and systems are prepared today.
The threat of AI-enabled attacks is too significant to rely on humans alone. At the same time, depending on AI alone is a mistake. The combination of humans and AI produces the best result. Today, AI brings an advantage in scalability, whereas humans bring an edge in creativity.
Discover if the company has enough qualified cybersecurity experts to monitor, evaluate, and improve the AI logic being used.
Explore if the company uses the type of AI-enabled software to protect company assets and eliminate the threat of criminal acts. Companies to investigate include Vectra and SparkCognition.
Become a champion of governance for AI in cybersecurity. Governance is critical to ensure that your AI cybersecurity hasn’t been compromised and produces the expected outcomes.
Some questions to consider:
- Have we defined the roles and responsibilities of cyber analysts?
- Are we monitoring the AI outputs to determine if the AI is behaving normally?
- How have we determined the risk tolerance of output generated by AI?
- Do we have sufficient transparency into the AI algorithms to understand how it is making decisions?
- What is our plan if AI algorithms fail or are outside our risk tolerance?
Your company is in an AI arms race. Cybersecurity is one critical area to invest in to win this arms race. Criminals are using AI today. One key element of AI is that it can get better every day, all by itself. Your company needs defense systems that are getting better every day as well. As a senior executive, you must be aware of these issues and drive the conversation around how AI is transforming the cybersecurity landscape.
Author’s Statement: I am a former CEO, a member of several boards, and a CEO coach. My specialty as a board member is to help guide companies through technology disruptions, especially AI. I have advised numerous tech companies on strategy, including Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft.