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AI and Machine Learning... the New Cybersecurity Frontier


It is estimated that about half of the world's population watched the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. An audience of that size tends to attract some of the largest and most innovative companies on the planet to advertise. If you happened to tune in, you may have seen Microsoft's "Empowering Innovation" commercial featuring hip hop artist, Common, who formally introduced the world to the power of artificial intelligence (AI).

The commercial opens with Common on-stage professing that through AI technology, we have more power at our fingertips than entire generations that came before us. The final question he poses is, "What are you going to do with it?" Great question to pose to a worldwide audience... depending on who is listening. The motives of viewers can vary widely from the young promising data scientist at MIT, to the cyber threat actor working feverishly to launch the worlds next greatest cyber-attack. The question for us is, "How will the power of this technology affect our lives as we venture further into the Digital Age?"

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Defined

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior. Machine learning (ML) is one of the hottest fields in computer science today. ML utilizes sophisticated algorithms that teach computers to learn without being explicitly programmed. It involves feeding huge amounts of data to an algorithm that allows a machine to adjust itself and improve on its own. Think Terminator!

Last month, we introduced our readers to digital footprints. We discussed how our digital footprints contain sensitive data that we must learn to protect before launching into cyberspace. If our personal and professional data gets into the wrong hands, it could cause serious harm throughout our entire lives. Since the beginning of the internet, the amount of data the world has launched into cyberspace has grown at astounding rates. Data science experts estimate that every two days we create as much data as we did from the beginning of time until 2000. They also estimate the volume of online data will grow from around 5 zettabytes today to 50 zettabytes by 2020. This is where the term "Big Data" comes from.

How Big Data Plays a Role in AI & ML Technology

AI & ML rely heavily on consuming Big Data to create complex algorithmic data models. These models have enabled computers to recognize data patterns much more accurately and quickly than humans. This is how Netflix can suggest movie's you would most likely enjoy watching. Self-driving cars, computers predicting stock market trends, winning Jeopardy, and the creation of digital personal assistants like Siri, and IBM's Watson were all developed using artificial intelligence and machine learning.

The healthcare industry is embracing AI & ML on several fronts

There are apps that exist today that converse with patients to explain lab results. AI based virtual healthcare assistants that measure vocal tones to detect depression and potential chronic issues like heart disease. IBM and UC San Diego recently launched an aging-based AI center that will use ML algorithms to better understand the microbes that live in the human body. The project objective is to increase and extend the quality of life and independence for aging populations. The possibilities of AI & ML increasing our quality of life are endless.

Security Benefits and Risks of AI & ML

From a cybersecurity standpoint, AI & ML technology offer security professionals great promise in protecting our private information in cyberspace. On the other hand, it also creates a new platform for attackers to exploit for malicious purposes. Below are a few benefits and threats to be aware of:

Security Benefits

  • Determining Safe Device Behavior - AI & ML have the capability to monitor general network usage patterns which allows it to identify and block malicious activity faster.
  • Monitoring Data Exchanges - Data sharing is critical for the success of any business. Monitoring these activities can be impossible task. AI & ML can identify something as suspicious, categorize legitimate threats and self-adjust its monitoring filters to stop a breach before it causes damage.
  • Predict Threats Based on Historical Data - AI & ML systems are proficient at examining large amounts of data and adjusting themselves to predict potential attacks based on historical trends.

Security Threats

  • Using AI & ML for Creating Malware - The first example of using AI & ML for malware creation was presented in 2017 in a paper entitled "Generating Adversarial Malware Examples for Black-Box Attacks Based on GAN."
  • Smart Botnet Attacks - Fortinet reports that 2018 will be the year of self-learning 'hivenets' and 'swarmbots', in essence the belief that 'intelligent' IoT devices can be commanded to talk to one another and attack vulnerable systems at much larger scales than we have seen in the past.
  • Smarter Spear Phishing Email Attacks - AI & ML will be used to target high-net worth individuals by weaponizing data science for more effective social engineering campaigns.
  • Infecting ML & IA Security Engines - this is essentially infecting the ML/IA system used for security and rendering it ineffective or harmful.

AI & ML is undoubtedly the new frontier in cyberspace. How we decide to act on the knowledge we gain will determine the degree of benefits and consequences we experience.

I refer to the words Mr. Common so boldly professed, "Through AI, we have more power at our fingertips than entire generations that came before us. What are you going to do with it?"

Ron Frechette, Co-Founder & Managing Partner of GoldSky Security is a cybersecurity and healthcare entrepreneur. He co-founded GoldSky Security, LLC. For questions, he can be reached at or send a tweet @GoldskyRon.

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