Hackers Are Now Attacking With Artificial Intelligence
Dark AI can penetrate your computer systems through a back door and simply lurk in the background, probing all the nooks and crannies, taking notes of what you’re using to defend your system and, most importantly, what you’re missing.
Hackers are now arming themselves with artificial intelligence (AI) to relentlessly probe the defenses of business computers so that they can strike those networks at just the right time and just the right place, according to IT security pros.
“Hackers are innovative,” said Stephen Gates, chief research intelligence analyst for Zenedge (www.zenedge.com), an AI security solutions maker. “They’re using automation, bots, artificial intelligence—and the only way to fight back is to pit robot against robot.”
Essentially, we’ve entered the age of AI wars. The thinking machines of the bad guys are now going up against the thinking machines of the good guys. And if it all sounds like a sci-fi movie, that’s only because technology has progressed so rapidly—and computers have become so blindingly fast—that the distinction between sci-fi and reality has now permanently blurred.
Adding to the threat is the hard fact that today’s hacker using AI is not the familiar teen hacker who is pulling cyber-pranks in his mom’s basement but instead is often very likely part of a sophisticated crime organization that has decided to make hacking its business.
Indeed, according to a 2017 report from Malwarebytes entitled “The New Mafia: Gangs and Vigilantes—A Guide to Cybercrime for CEOs” (www.malwarebytes.
com/pdf/white-papers/Cybercrime_NewMafia.pdf), today’s hacker organizations are similar to the criminal gangs that dominated major cities such as New York in the ’30s. Increasingly, they’re using fear, intimidation, a feeling of helplessness and now AI to prey on businesses.
Probably the greatest threat dark AI poses to businesses is that it is self-teaching. Every day that dark AI is on your network, it gets smarter about your strengths and weaknesses. And every day, it’s capable of inventing creative ways to bring your network down.
Like a genius punk who’s decided to case your joint, dark AI can penetrate your computer systems through a back door and simply lurk in the background, probing all the nooks and crannies, taking notes of what you’re using to defend your system and, most importantly, what you’re missing.
Sure, hackers have used similar lurking technologies in the past, but with dark AI, they now have their hands on the same thinking technology that has beaten the world’s best chess players, smote the greatest Jeopardy champs and made mincemeat of Go’s top prodigies.
“We are increasingly detecting never-before-seen threats on organizations’ networks,” said Rob Sass, managing director of Darktrace in North America
(www.darktrace.com), an AI security firm.
Fortunately, there is a solution.
During the past few years, software programmers for the good guys have been furiously coding new AI security packages that can go up against anything the AI hackers can throw at you, byte for byte. Like a neighborhood cop on the beat, these AI programs are capable of getting to know every back alley of your network as well as every back door you forgot about, to the point that anything unusual going on inside your network sticks out. Moreover, that same AI security software can have that intruder locked away in a paddy wagon and off to quarantine.
AI has completely altered the IT security threat landscape, according to David Masson, country manager for Darktrace in Canada.
“By employing technology that can detect threats as they emerge and autonomously take action against them in real time, organizations are regaining the advantage over attackers,” said David Masson, country manager for Darktrace in Canada.
Another plus: AI security for the white hats is also tireless, in the sense that it can simultaneously monitor and neutralize more dark AI threats than humanly possible—threats that can be disposed of without incident while you sleep peacefully or close your next big deal.
“Human beings alone, no matter how skilled, don’t have the bandwidth to handle the hyper growth in the network attack surface and threat landscape,” said Hitesh Sheth, CEO for Vectra (www.vectra.ai), an AI IT security solutions maker. “Artificial intelligence allows enterprises to augment their security teams to automate detection and response.”
Of course, like all new tech, white-hat AI is no panacea. The self-learning aspect of the technology is so advanced, for example, that even the programmers who create thinking AI often have no idea after awhile what the AI knows, how it got from here to there, and what underlying logic it’s currently using to define and neutralize threats.
Indeed, relying on thinking AI often is a lot like being a coal miner who brought up his daughter right, sent her to the right schools, and is now trusting her to do some surgery on his brain. He doesn’t know what she knows, but he’s got to trust that she knows what she’s doing.
Another problem with white-hat AI, according to early adopters, is that it can be overly cautious, generating lots of security warnings that later turn out to be groundless. Still, while imperfect, white-hat AI is the best we have right now to go up against the same AI technology that hackers are using to be just as smart and just as creative.
“There is no doubt about AI being the future of security,” said Hal Lonas, chief technology officer for IT security firm Webroot. “AI is here to stay, and it will have a large impact on security strategies moving forward.”
Indeed, according to a 2017 report from Webroot, 86% of security pros surveyed said that they fear hackers are gearing up to use AI against them (www.tinyurl.com/executivewebroot).
Moreover, a full 88% of those same pros also say that they are using some kind of AI to defend against hackers.
Yet another reason to consider adding AI to your arsenal is that hackers are also free to use traditional ways to wreak havoc on your computer network and extort money from your company once they’ve found a way to neutralize your defenses with their AI. According to a 2018 IT security forecast from Sophos Labs (www.tinyurl.com/sophosmalware), we all can expect another tough year ahead trying to thwart ransomware—the malware that infects your network, encrypts all your files and then demands a ransom to unencrypt your files.
Sophos also predicts a sharp uptick in the spread of malware on Android systems and Mac computers.
Of course, Windows operating systems will continue to be a favorite target of hackers again in 2018, according to the report—including novice hackers, who can easily buy do-it-yourself exploit kits that make it easy to infiltrate known vulnerabilities in Microsoft Office.
Said Rahul Kashyap, chief technology officer for AI security solutions maker Cylance (www.cylance.com): “An always-on, prevention-first security approach is what all organizations, across all industries, need to keep up with the modern threat landscape.”
Bottom line: You may want to start kicking the tires on some AI IT security solutions before hackers using the same technology decide to have you for lunch. Here are a few AI market leaders to start with:
CylanceProtect by Cylance (www.cylance.com): iT-Cube Systems AG, (www.tinyurl.com/cylandcollateral), a German-based IT security firm, conducted a 2017 study by where CylanceProtect was found to neutralize malware better than all products tested. It also consumed the least amount of network resources while implementing those neutralizations.
DarkTrace Enterprise by DarkTrace (www.darktrace.com): Created by a group of University of Cambridge mathematicians and some former British military staff, DarkTrace works like many AI security systems by studying how your network works and then monitoring and neutralizing any anomalies. One of its newest tools is Antigena, which can be programmed to send security alerts to your IT staff or take action on perceived threats—including quarantining those threats—without human interaction.
Cognito by Vectra Networks (www.vectra.ai): Cognito also learns how your network operates and then remains in “always on” mode to monitor for anomalies and neutralize threats. This solution was recognized as a Gold Winner by the 2018 Cybersecurity Excellence Awards (www.cybersecurity-excellence-awards.com/2018-cybersecurity-company-award...), an awards group sponsored by a coalition of security industry companies.
Zenedge Cybersecurity Suite by Zenedge (www.zenedge.com): Recently purchased by Oracle, this AI suite now has a world-class corporation behind it, along with all the research dollars, iron-clad guarantees and reasonably reliable longevity that association affords.
Joe Dysart is an internet speaker and business consultant based in Manhattan.