How artificial intelligence is changing cybersecurity?

Contributed by Zachary Hadlee

Since the non-event of Y2K, protecting computer systems and everything contained within them has become an increasingly urgent priority worldwide. These days, there are news reports almost daily on businesses such as Yahoo, Marriott and EBay falling victim to computer hackers and breaches of cybersecurity processes.

The earliest recorded use of the term ‘cybersecurity’ was back in 1989 – before then, the word cyber had a distinctly sci-fi vibe to it and was mainly confined to books and movies. In today’s world, cybersecurity is at the top of the list of priorities for businesses and Governments and one which, worldwide, we spend a staggering $114 billion on. Essentially, cybersecurity is all about protecting our internet-connected data, systems, software and hardware from cyber attacks – the unauthorised access or ‘hacking’ of systems in order to steal data. In 2016, over 200 million records – including those of Homeland Security and the FBI – were exposed through hacking.

Despite the very real dangers presented by cyberattack, many businesses are using little more than firewalls to prevent a breach – basically a simple network security system which acts as a traffic policeman on traffic coming in and out of a network; establishing barriers between the trusted internal network and external threats such as the internet. Although firewalls have evolved a great deal since their inception in the 1990s, many feel that they are no longer enough to ensure the security of our systems. As the need for greater defences against attack increases, many predict that artificial intelligence (AI) will play a huge role in defending our data.

A game changer for the security sector

Like the movie of the same name, Artificial Intelligence, or AI (also known as machine learning) simulates human intelligence in order to learn, reason and self-correct. AI has the ability to, in effect, learn – and learn from its mistakes in order to tackle problems in a methodical and rational manner – and with incredible speed.

In 2019, AI is used widely in a huge range of sectors – from hotel and leisure businesses to medical facilities, so, how does this translate to cybersecurity?

Until recently, it’s been down to us mere mortals to observe and analyze data patterns and behaviors in order to spot any anomalies which may indicate a breach. This has always been a cumbersome and time-consuming job and, often, by the time a breach is identified, it’s far too late to even attempt to track the hacker. Artificial Intelligence can be taught to do the same job and, not only will it do it so much faster than any human being could, it doesn’t need to stop for a cup of tea or a restroom break.

AI can read through structured data at super-fast speed in order to provide fast responses, meaning that we have a much greater chance of apprehending those who are threatening our systems. In addition to analyzing data within a system, AI can look at the way logins and passwords are entered in order to identify anomalies and quickly report them. This is a particularly important aspect as we remember the attack on Capital One which saw the data of 106 million customers being stolen from the financial giant.

As AI firmly claims its place in Cybersecurity, it can be trained to complete a large number of tasks, including:

  • Network protection – detecting, reporting and preventing system intrusions
  • Fraud – AI can quickly and effectively identify fraudulent use
  • User authentication – AI can dramatically improve on login and password breaches
  • Credit scoring – AI can transcend the existing, simple checks which are made for credit applications and apply a much deeper analysis of an applicant in order to fully understand the financial risk that they may represent

By applying AI to cybersecurity, businesses will save huge amounts of time, money and effort; much of which is currently wasted due to time consuming and ineffective practices.

Proactive prevention

As well as keeping our data safe and reporting attacks, artificial intelligence can even improve resistance to attacks by identifying patterns of previous attacks and the weaknesses which caused them – and then working toward eliminating those weaknesses. This is possibly the most essential use of AI in cybersecurity – prevention is always better than the cure!

Many organizations are already employing AI within their cybersecurity processes – and we’re sure to see many many more doing the same by the time we hit 2020. Although there are, of course, issues when using AI, both legal and ethical, responsible use of AI in cybersecurity is a vital move forward as hackers become smarter, faster and much more dangerous. It is said that the introduction of AI is simply a way of handing another tool to the hackers and cyber-thieves. Although this is a concern, we can no longer ignore the fact that our firewalls and human-driven cybersecurity is simply not enough to keep us safe.

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