Security software specialist, Symantec, expects artificial intelligence-enabled cyber attacks to cause an explosion of network penetrations, personal data thefts, and an epidemic-level spread of intelligent computer viruses in the coming years, leading to a full-fledged arms race between cyber criminals and security.
Senior Director at Symantec research labs, Brian Witten, said: “We think attackers are leveraging automation in building their attacks for a long time. In that sense, it is only a matter of time they start leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) a lot more aggressively. It will be their AI against our AI and whoever builds the smartest AI will end up winning the arms race.”
Many cyber security firms are using recent advances in AI and machine learning (ML), to secure systems and data of their clients as attacks get more complex and sophisticated causing unprecedented levels of disruption.
“It is important to recognise that a lot of companies in the security industry have started leveraging AI to make individual products more effective and for not only detecting malware, spam and phishing, but also security operations,” said Witten. “Cyber criminals are getting smarter and they are relying on AI to stage attacks.”
The number of malware variants jumped 357 million in 2016 from 275 million two years earlier; email malware rate also soared from 1 in 244 to 1 in 131 during the same period, according to a report by Symantec in April this year. Ransomware detections touched 463,841 in 2016.
“One of the things driving them to apply AI and ML to security operations is there are not many security experts in the world for hiring. AI doubles the effectiveness of human security experts. It is amazing. Humans with the help of AI are able to detect all kinds of attacks that human alone could not detect,” said Witten.He believes that AI should handle tonnes of data, letting humans focus on strategy.
In a recent blog post, McAfee Chief Technology Officer, Steve Grobman, wrote that in the field of cyber security, as long as there is a shortage of human talent, the industry must rely on technologies such as AI and ML to amplify the capabilities of the humans.
He, however, added that as long as there are human adversaries behind cybercrime and cyber warfare, there will always be a critical need for human intellect teamed with technology.