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Sam Bocetta
Contributing writer

Is AI fundamental to the future of cybersecurity?

Jun 12, 20195 mins
Application SecurityArtificial IntelligenceData and Information Security

Thanks to the quickening pace of natural language capability development, artificial intelligence will likely be at the forefront of the next wave of cybersecurity tools.boc

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Credit: Getty Images

Every time you connect to the internet from a computer, tablet or smartphone, there is a growing risk of cyberattack. If the threat is aimed at your workplace, then the entire organization around you could be vulnerable as well and, too often, the result is a major data breach.

A well-run company, regardless of its size or global reach, must eventually acknowledge that cybersecurity requires a significant investment. But what tools and processes return the most bang for your buck?

A growing number of experts believe that new technology based on machine learning and artificial intelligence are where the smart money lies when it comes to computer, network and data security.

So, how are businesses currently building their cyber defenses…and how that might change in the future thanks to AI?

The current state of cybersecurity

Today, companies place an emphasis on the security of their internal network. If hackers manage to infiltrate that layer of their infrastructure, it is only a matter of time before a “small” breach becomes a large-scale attack.

The most common tactic for network protection is a firewall. Firewalls can exist either as a software tool or a hardware device that is physically connected to the network. In either scenario, the firewall’s job is to track what network connections are allowed on which ports and block all other requests. Typically, server administrators set and control these firewall policies and adjust them via a change management process.

In an instance where a hacker has circumvented the firewall and network security, a company’s next line of defense is antivirus tools that are designed to scan hardware for malicious code. The goal is to remove the malware before it can spread to other machines and spawn a form of attack like ransomware.

Backup management is also a fundamental piece of any organization’s cybersecurity strategy. Companies should plan for emergencies by developing a disaster recovery plan. By running regular backups on all core systems, you have the ability to recover from an outage or data breach in a reasonable amount of time.

But when it comes to cybersecurity, perhaps no tool is more valuable than training. The most successful organizations run sessions on a regular basis for new and existing employees to educate them about what threats exist online and how to protect themselves and the company.

How artificial intelligence will shape the future

The majority of legacy cybersecurity tools require human interaction or configuration at some level. For example, a person from the IT team has to set the firewall policies and backup schedules and then ensure that they are running successfully. The advancement of AI changes the whole equation.

In the future, companies will be able to rely on smart tools to handle the bulk of event monitoring and incident response. The next generation of firewalls will have machine learning technology built into them, allowing the software to recognize patterns in web requests and automatically block those that could be a threat.

Experts also expect the natural language capabilities of AI to play a big role in the future of cybersecurity tools. The theory is that by scanning large portions of data across the internet, AI systems can learn how cyberattacks originate and suggest solutions for decision makers within the organization.

Security products built on AI framework are not cheap, and that poses a dilemma for small and medium sized businesses at present. Hiring and supporting a team of machine learning experts to build custom cybersecurity solutions may not be an immediate or even near-term option. For now, it might make more sense to invest in hybrid tools that are already on the market and embed AI technology in human-operated products.

The end of passwords (maybe)

Passwords. Can’t live without them but they make you crazy. The majority of internet users create their own bespoke passwords for each website or service that they subscribe to online. This system can be frustrating to maintain as well as vulnerable to attack if you rely on simple passwords or use the same one for multiple sites.

There have been improvements in password manager software performance in recent years, most of which aim to simplify and strengthen online security by removing a large portion of the manual effort from the task through algorithms that suggest and store passwords complex enough to reduce your chances of being hacked.

But soon, AI could carry us into the twilight zone of an online environment without passwords. New advances in the world of identity and access management (IAM) suggest that one day passwords might actually be replaced by a smarter AI-based system.

The idea is that the AI would track every user within an organization based on roles, privileges, and common actions. Any deviation from the norm would be flagged and require the person to use a second form of authentication, such as biometrics that scan fingerprints or facial features.

Investing in cybersecurity solutions and tools is a necessary task for businesses of all sizes. Those with smaller budgets may think they can save money by taking shortcuts, but in fact they are often the prime target for hackers for exactly this reason. Cybersecurity products prove their worth in the long run by reducing your organization’s risk and protecting it from dangerous unknowns.

The good news is that thanks to advancements in AI technologies, companies will likely not need to maintain large cybersecurity teams within their IT department as the future unfolds.

Tools based on machine learning are extremely good at picking up on patterns and uncovering incidents before a human user typically would. For now, organizations should pair workers with these next-generation tools in executing a cybersecurity strategy and stay tuned for new AI developments.