AI: The Battle Line Of Modern Data Protection

These days, it seems artificial intelligence (AI) is finding its way into everything. Not too long ago, the idea that machines could think for themselves was considered science fiction. Since the dawn of modern computers, we could always explicitly program certain tasks to be carried out, but we couldn't teach machines to mimic the cognitive functions of human beings and learn for themselves — until now.

But as AI is increasingly incorporated into computer systems globally, it is also becoming the battle line between the bad actors and the good-faith efforts that the rest of the world makes to use the technology for the betterment of humanity. Bad actors are working to use AI to hold computer data and networks hostage. For example, security researchers at IBM discovered cyberattacks using AI triggered by geolocation and facial recognition. Unless AI is built into protecting the infrastructures of these networks (“data protection,” to use an industry term), the inevitable result is that bad actors will win the war.

Computer Learning For The Good Of Humanity

Here's a quick primer in AI. The internet and the vast amounts of data available across computer networks feeds machines’ capacity to learn for themselves through mathematical algorithms. These algorithms provide a set of rules to be followed when solving problems. Machine learning (ML) happens when vast amounts of processed data lead to machines changing the algorithms as they learn more about the information they are processing.

The bottom line is that the algorithms should deliver correct answers in the most efficient way possible while detecting trends and identifying patterns too complex for humans to notice — considerably faster than any human being ever could, when tasked with analyzing that same data.

AI is becoming a technological evolutionary step in industry and government. A vast number of companies and governments are designing AI algorithms to be the best for specific purposes. For example, Google recognized the potential of AI a long time ago, acquiring a U.K.-based company called DeepMind Technologies in 2014, which had developed a neural network that enabled computers to remarkably mimic the short-term memory of the human brain. Since then, Google has used AI to optimize data center management system efficiency, squeezing every kilowatt hour possible in cost savings, and is now focusing its AI on health care.

Other companies are starting to use AI in health care too, making diagnoses and even catching cancer in pathology images with exceptional accuracy. Ultimately, the potential for AI for the betterment of humanity is enormous, when coupled with computing power of today’s limitless, elastic world.

But if you think AI is only being considered for good, guess again. AI is also being considered for really bad things too.

The Global Fight For AI Dominance

AI is becoming the new battlefront for global supremacy. When Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that the development of AI raises "colossal opportunities and threats that are difficult to predict now," he wasn’t kidding. Putin has also stated that “whoever reaches a breakthrough in developing artificial intelligence will come to dominate the world,” and warned that it would be strongly undesirable if someone wins a monopolist position. And Elon Musk has called AI humanity’s “biggest existential threat.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping has businesses and government collaborating on a sweeping plan to make China the world's primary AI innovation center by 2030. But it’s not just the Chinese government that’s investing in AI — so is South Korea, as well as many other countries. Would you be surprised to hear that North Korea has been developing AI technologies since the 1990s? In fact, before Google DeepMind, North Korea had been the reigning AI champion of international computerized competitions for the ancient Chinese game of Go.

China is the global leader in launching cyberattacks. In fact, China is the lead suspect in the recent Marriott hacking, according to Reuters Reports. It’s clear that countries like China, North Korea, Russia and even Turkey and Iran have the ability to perform state-sponsored attacks and are working hard to make AI the centerpiece technology of future cyberattacks.

The incredibly destructive SamSam ransomware was actually developed by two Iranian hackers, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. What makes the SamSam ransomware so insidious is that it also seeks out and destroys the very backups that organizations use to recover from in cases of disaster. As the ability to restore machines from backup is wiped out, much more consideration is applied to actually paying a ransom.

The Critical AI Strategy For Saving The World’s Computer Networks

We don’t have to look into a crystal ball to foretell that AI will be used in cyberattacks in the future. Imagine if the SamSam ransomware or a variant used AI to map networks, spread infection and defend itself against cybersecurity countermeasures being deployed to destroy it.

Ransomware by definition is developed to make money by holding data hostage using strong encryption, but we can already predict that bad actors can change their AI strategies when the possibility of ransom payment dries up, concentrating instead on the destruction of all data. These cybercriminals’ new plan will become one of simply destroying one network and moving on to the next within its reach. I believe AI will join ransomware, becoming increasingly and frighteningly weaponized.

As more organizations move infrastructure to the cloud, it’s obvious that nation-state attacks will also go after the public cloud providers everyone takes for granted as being a secure infrastructure for commerce, science and government.

To stop this from happening, we must incorporate AI into modern data protection solutions to combat malicious and destructive AI. It must become a cybersecurity countermeasure to prevent the destruction of data protection if we are going to maintain our essential defense against insidious cyberattacks.

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