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AI and information security: a double-edged sword

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In this blog, Senior Governance, Risk and Compliance (GRC) Consultant Has Gateru will explore the impact of AI on information security, highlighting its dual nature as both a formidable threat and an essential defence – and giving you strategies to harness its potential and mitigate the risks.
Artificial intelligence (AI) has permeated almost every part of our lives, from healthcare and transportation to finance and technology – and the field of information security is no exception. The integration of AI into information security has brought with it a unique blend of promise and danger. On the one hand, AI offers revolutionary tools for defending against an ever-evolving landscape of cyber threats. On the other, it can be exploited by malicious actors to create more sophisticated and damaging attacks.

The promise of AI in information security

In the realm of cyber security, AI is a powerful ally. It brings several advantages that can significantly enhance an organisation’s ability to protect its data and systems. Let’s delve into some of the key benefits that AI can bring to your information security.

Threat detection and prevention

AI-driven solutions excel in identifying patterns and anomalies in large datasets. They can recognise previously unseen threats and malicious behaviour in real-time, helping security teams respond proactively. Traditional signature-based methods often struggle to keep pace with the rapid evolution of cyber threats, making AI an indispensable tool.

Automation of routine tasks

AI can automate routine security tasks such as patch management, log analysis and vulnerability assessments. This frees up human resources to focus on more complex and strategic security issues, improving overall efficiency and accuracy.

Rapid incident response

In the event of a security incident, AI can speed up the incident response process. It can contain threats, gather and analyse data, and provide real-time guidance to human responders, reducing the damage caused by cyber attacks. It can even disrupt attacks and create deceptions to lure threat actors away from sensitive assets.

Adaptive defences

AI can adapt to changing threat landscapes. It learns from past incidents and continuously improves its ability to detect and mitigate new threats. This adaptability is essential in the cat-and-mouse game of cyber security.

Phishing and malware detection

Phishing attacks are a common entry point for cyber criminals. AI can enhance email security by identifying phishing attempts, malicious attachments and suspicious links, thereby reducing the likelihood of successful phishing attacks.


Limitations of AI for information security

While the promise of AI to revolutionise various aspects of our lives is unmistakable, it’s important to acknowledge the inherent limitations embedded in the very data that underpins AI decision making. These limitations are rooted in the fundamental differences between AI and human intelligence. AI, without human emotions and ethical comprehension, operates within predefined boundaries, rendering its decision-making devoid of the sophisticated understanding and contextual awareness that humans possess. 

Here are some of the constraints and challenges of AI for information security that you should consider.

AI over-agency

Overreliance on AI to not only assist in tasks but to autonomously perform them, with the presumption that it will consistently make flawless decisions, can lead to significant problems. Often termed ‘AI over-agency’, the practice can have profound consequences and deserves a more comprehensive examination.

AI technologies, while powerful and increasingly sophisticated, are not infallible. They operate based on patterns and data, and their performance is contingent upon the quality and diversity of the data they have been trained on. Moreover, AI systems are inherently limited by their programming and the algorithms they employ. They lack the sense and wherewithal of a human user.

False positives and negatives

False positives occur when an AI system erroneously identifies something as true or relevant when it is not. False negatives, on the other hand, happen when the AI fails to recognise something that is true or relevant. In cyber security, for example, a false positive might be flagging a legitimate user as a potential threat, while a false negative would be failing to detect a real security breach. These issues are primarily related to the accuracy and effectiveness of AI systems and do not inherently involve bias or hallucination.

AI bias and hallucinations

Bias refers to systematic and unfair  or favouritism in the decision-making or predictions made by the AI system from biased training data and algorithms. These biases may result in an overemphasis on specific threat vectors while overlooking others, similar to a form of ‘cyber security hallucination’. As a consequence, this imbalance can introduce vulnerabilities in the overall security posture, akin to an unaddressed blind spot within the broader spectrum of potential threats.

Hallucination refers to the generation of incorrect or nonsensical information by the AI system and typically happens when the AI extrapolates from its training data to create content that doesn’t exist in reality.

One example of AI hallucinatory outcomes can be found in image generation using deep learning models like Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs). GANs are capable of generating highly realistic images based on the patterns they’ve learned from training data. However, in some cases, they can also generate hallucinatory or nonsensical images that resemble real objects but do not exist in reality. Such instances highlight how AI models can generate content that blurs the line between reality and imagination, leading to hallucinatory results.

AI in information security is a double-edged sword, but with the right strategies, it can be wielded effectively.

The dangers of AI in cyber security

While the potential for AI in strengthening cyber security is evident, it also introduces a set of challenges and threats. The very capabilities that make AI an effective defence can be harnessed by cyber criminals for more sophisticated and devastating attacks. Let’s take a look at some of the dangers of AI you should keep in mind.

AI-enhanced cyber attacks

The use of AI by malicious actors is leading to a surge in highly sophisticated and evasive cyber attacks, posing new challenges for defenders. These attacks exemplify an unprecedented evolution in cybercrime. They exhibit three key characteristics:

  • Enhanced attack sophistication: AI empowers cybercriminals to craft convincing, highly personalised phishing emails and tailor-made cyber attacks. This level of customisation increases the likelihood of deceiving targets, making AI-enhanced attacks more successful.
  • Targeted approach: Malicious actors leverage machine learning to analyse extensive datasets about potential victims, enabling the creation of highly targeted attacks. These attacks exploit individuals’ interests, behaviours, and relationships, making them difficult to detect with traditional security measures.
  • Stealth and adaptability: AI not only bolsters initial attack techniques but also optimises evasion tactics. Attackers employ AI to fine-tune attack timing, obscure malicious code, and dynamically adapt to security defences, rendering it challenging for cyber security tools to identify and block these attacks in real-time.

Defending against AI-enhanced attacks necessitates the adoption of advanced security measures that incorporate AI and machine learning for detection and response.

Adversarial AI

Adversarial AI revolves around the intentional manipulation of AI models to mislead their decision-making, often with the aim of compromising security systems. It takes advantage of the inherent vulnerabilities, where they make determinations based on input data.

This manipulation involves crafting inputs, which could be data, images or text, to exploit the AI model’s blind spots, causing it to misinterpret or overlook information. These manipulative tactics undermine the reliability of AI-based security systems and may lead to undesirable outcomes, like false positives or false negatives.

Privacy concerns

AI’s reliance on data is profound, encompassing personal and sensitive information, creating a complicated landscape where privacy and ethics are paramount. Protecting individuals’ privacy is crucial, and any mistake in anonymising, securing or handling data can lead to unauthorised access and unintended disclosures, resulting in severe consequences for individuals and organisations alike.

Ethical use is equally vital. AI systems must adhere to ethical principles like consent, transparency and fairness to avoid potential societal harm and loss of trust. Legal and regulatory compliance is also essential, as failure to meet data protection requirements can result in severe financial and legal penalties. Mitigating these challenges entails robust data protection policies, encryption, access controls, and a culture of transparency and accountability throughout the AI lifecycle. Compliance with relevant regulations is a must, enabling organisations to harness AI’s power while minimising the risks associated with data breaches and ethical lapses.

AI plugins and software

The variability in the quality and security practices of AI plugins and software is a central concern. While some are meticulously developed with strong security measures, others lack comprehensive scrutiny, opening doors to potential entry points for malicious actors. These security bugs and vulnerabilities can extend the attack surface, making AI systems more vulnerable to cyber threats. Attackers can exploit these weaknesses to gain unauthorised access, execute malicious code and manipulate AI processes, posing threats to data integrity, confidentiality and system availability.

The ramifications of such security issues can be severe, including data breaches, system disruptions and the misuse of AI capabilities for malicious purposes. To mitigate these risks, organisations must adopt a proactive approach by conducting thorough security assessments of plugins, staying updated with security updates and prioritising security when developing or procuring AI software. Cultivating a culture of cyber security awareness and best practices is crucial in fortifying AI systems against inadvertent security vulnerabilities, enabling the realisation of AI’s transformative potential while minimising associated risks.

Model theft

Model theft in the realm of AI poses significant threats to intellectual property (IP) and the inherent value of AI technologies. It includes the unauthorised acquisition of custom models and innovations like Reinforcement Learning from Human Feedback (RLHF) enhancements. With their tailored and proprietary nature, custom models represent substantial investments for organisations, and their theft jeopardises IP integrity and competitive advantages. Similarly, the illicit acquisition of RLHF-enhanced models can hinder innovation and diminish trust in AI technology.

AI models, often part of a company’s IP portfolio, encompass not just architecture but also accumulated knowledge and data. Model theft leads to IP loss, jeopardising market position and revenue streams. Furthermore, this infringement results in the erosion of the perceived value of original models, damaging market reputation, and trust. To mitigate such risks, robust security measures, regular audits and legal safeguards such as patents and non-disclosure agreements are imperative to protect AI IP and maintain the value of AI assets in a dynamic technological landscape.

Fragmentation of the AI market

The AI market’s significant fragmentation, marked by a surge in startups rushing AI products to market, presents problematic diversity within the ecosystem, spanning various applications and industries, resulting in complex software supply chains. A key concern is software provenance, known as a Software Bill of Materials (SBOM), aimed at documenting the origin and components of AI software. However, in the fast-evolving AI landscape, maintaining comprehensive SBOMs can be challenging, potentially introducing supply chain risks.

In their pursuit of competitive advantage, startups prioritise speed to market, sometimes at the expense of proper documentation, including SBOMs. AI solutions often rely on intricate software components, making it crucial to track their origins and versions to identify vulnerabilities and ensure compliance with licensing and security requirements. Incomplete or flaky SBOMs can introduce supply chain risks, making it difficult to identify and address issues promptly.

To mitigate these risks, organisations should promote enhanced documentation practices, industry-wide standardisation for SBOMs, regular audits of software components, robust security measures, and collaboration among industry stakeholders. These strategies help harness the potential of AI while ensuring transparency and security within the evolving AI development landscape.


Potential strategies for AI information security

The dual nature of AI in information security means that organisations must strike a balance between harnessing its potential and mitigating its risks. Here are some potential strategies you might consider:

  • Invest in AI-driven information security solutions: Deploy AI-driven security tools and platforms that provide real-time threat detection and response. Ensure these solutions are regularly updated and fine-tuned to adapt to emerging threats.
  • Human oversight: Maintain a strong human element in your security strategy. While AI can automate many tasks, human analysts are crucial for decision-making, strategy development and ethical considerations.
  • Threat intelligence sharing: Collaborate with other organisations and share threat intelligence. This can help create a collective defence against AI-enhanced attacks and minimise risks.
  • Regular training and awareness: Train your workforce to recognise AI-generated threats, such as deepfake videos or convincing AI-generated text and explore AI identification tools that will serve as a valuable line of defence to sit alongside your employees. Awareness is the first line of defence.
  • Data privacy and ethical AI: Ensure that your AI-driven security solutions are designed with data privacy and ethical AI principles in mind. This not only safeguards your organisation’s reputation but also reduces the risk of compliance issues.
  • Monitoring and auditing: Continuously monitor and audit your AI security systems to detect adversarial AI attacks. Maintain a feedback loop for continuous improvement.
  • Diversity in AI development: Promote diversity in AI development teams to reduce the risk of bias in AI models and to bring varied perspectives into play in security measures.


The future of AI and information security

AI’s role in information security is set to become even more critical in the future. As both cyber security defences and threats become increasingly sophisticated, AI will be at the forefront of this ongoing battle. To adapt and thrive in this evolving landscape, organisations must embrace AI while remaining vigilant and proactive in addressing its risks.

AI in information security is a double-edged sword, but with the right strategies, it can be wielded effectively. The future of cyber security lies in the hands of those who can harness the power of AI to defend against the threats that AI itself has the potential to create. Understanding this duality and guiding your organisation through these complexities will be paramount in securing a digital future.

AI and information security form a complex and intertwined relationship. While AI holds the potential to revolutionise cyber security, it also poses unique challenges that demand thoughtful consideration and proactive strategies. Organisations that can successfully navigate those waters will be better equipped to protect their digital assets in an ever-changing threat landscape.

Get in touch with us to find out how we can build a cyber security programme optimised for AI and information security.

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