Artificial Intelligence (AI) is deemed to be one of the biggest technological innovations of this decade. However, like with all innovations, we must focus on fundamental applications first before we quite literally reach for the stars. AI has huge potential for wireless networks and for the people that must protect them, as well as those who try and attack them. So how will AI come into play this year and how will it shape the future?
The reality is AI can or will — at least theoretically — at some point exceed humans’ capabilities, which makes it simultaneously exciting and terrifying. As it stands, AI is far from becoming truly ‘artificially intelligent’ and has a long way to go in developing both emotional and logical intelligence beyond data analytics.
Cybercriminals are always quick to exploit the latest in technology and AI is no exception. We are already facing a cybercrime pandemic and this will worsen during 2019 as cybercriminals become more sophisticated and organised. Cybercrime is no longer the domain of lone hackers, it has become a huge business with sophisticated operating models and low barrier to entry.
The organisation of cybercrime is now so extensive that wannabe cybercriminals don’t have to be technical experts. AI allows them to use very targeted, automated tools and these may even learn as they go, getting incrementally better at causing harm. It’s becoming more common for malware to contain nasty surprises such as sleep timers that cause it to open minutes or even days after the file has been declared safe, or the ability to detect and respond to mouse movements.
Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) with limited security resources are likely to be most vulnerable. However, everyone is at risk as AI-powered crypto-viruses and other forms of malware proliferate and are deployed with pinpoint accuracy.
AI warfare, which is effectively industrial or political espionage, or competitive intelligence gathering enacted by computer intelligence, is another rising threat. Even the German parliament has fallen victim to this. The implications for AI warfare between businesses are substantial and 2019 is likely to see many ramp up their cybersecurity arrangements to combat it.
The biggest lesson to be drawn from this is that many traditional security measures are no longer good enough. AI works like the human brain: it learns, it develops, and it grows. No firewall or out-of-the-box virus checker can compete with that. In 2019 we must all move on.
AI for good
Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) will become more widespread in 2019, thanks to the superior protection that it offers against AI-based threat.
ATP provides real-time monitoring and protection of the network, which is crucial when threats are increasing, frequently novel, able to infiltrate and spread within a network at lightning speed and incredibly difficult to get rid of. The need is to detect and silo threats before they have any chance to deploy.
Businesses can’t afford to wait for their firewall or virus checker’s next upgrade if the threat is in the here and now. Real-time protection and surveillance is all-important.
Cloud computing, combined with a more virtuous application of AI, gives ATP another edge. Machine learning allows it to understand and thus detect evolving threats. The more data it has (drawn from the business or businesses using it), the better it does. Cloud computing allows this knowledge to be aggregated and shared, creating an ATP that gets better by the hour.
ATP — previously a specialist tool — will move into the mainstream this year.
Sandboxing is a crucial part of ATP, but not all sandboxes are the same. The best now watch activity at the processor instruction level, detecting and blocking malware (including zero-day events) before it is deployed. What’s more, current sandboxes use the power of AI to share information with cloud-based ATP and associated networks, so intelligence is quickly shared, and everybody benefits, almost immediately, from better protection.
As a result, the firewall is more or less obsolete and sandboxes (and wider ATP systems) are rapidly replacing it. That change will accelerate during this year.
Implications of applying AI
For SMBs, the growth of AI and its potential applications for both good and ill demand a move to the cloud.
Local security solutions just don’t cut it any more: businesses desperately need the protection of ATP and sandboxing, but they need cloud because that’s where meaningful volumes of data are aggregated, and protection evolves as a result.
AI cross-checks inputs and events to understand threats more fully. Systems can then make meaningful predictions and mitigate threats effectively in real-time using machine learning. Just like human understanding, the protective system learns and grows.
When this type of machine learning is applied to an ATP system, everybody who is protected by that system benefits from the threats that they — and others — have already dealt with. That learning might have occurred a year, a week, a day or even ten minutes ago: AI can use all of it, fast.
While we aren’t quite at the point of no return or where ATP and sandboxing will replace all other security measures, there’s no doubt in time they will. For now, savvy organisations are using such tools alongside other solutions where required.
The reality is that the majority of SMBs may be cautious of embracing new technological innovations due to the increasing threat of cybercrime. Just one successful malware attack can bring enough financial, reputational and legal damage to terminate a business. But with cybercriminals leveraging AI to evolve their own skills set, businesses of all sizes must also do so to create efficiencies and strengthen network defences with advanced, cloud-based and above all, AI-driven security. It is not all doom and gloom. The future is looking far brighter for business than it is for the cybercriminals.