Will AI usher in a new era of hacking?

Machine vs. machine might be the future of cyber warfare, experts say

By Michael Kan
Nov. 28, 2016

However, the term AI is a loaded one. Tech companies may all be talking about it, but no company has created a true artificial intelligence. The industry has instead come up with technologies that can play games better than a human, act as digital assistants, or even diagnose rare diseases.

Cybersecurity firms such as Cylance have also been using a subset of AI called machine learning to stop malware. That's involved building mathematical models based on malware samples that can gauge whether certain activity on a computer is normal or not.

"Ultimately, you end up with a statistical probability that this file is good or bad," said Jon Miller, chief research officer of the security firm. More than 99 percent of the time the machine learning works to detect the malware, he said.

"We're continually adding new data (malware samples) into the model," Miller said. "The more data you have, the more accurate you can be."


A drawback is that using machine learning can be expensive. "We spend half a million dollars a month on computer models," he said. That money is spent on leasing cloud computing services from Amazon to run the models.

Anyone who attempts to use AI technologies for malicious purposes might face this same barrier to entry. In addition, they'll also need to secure top talent to develop the programming. But over time, the costs of computing power will inevitably decrease, Miller said.

Still, the day when hackers resort to using AI may be far off. "Why hasn’t this been done? It’s just not necessary," he said. "If you want to hack somebody, there are already enough known flaws in everything."

To this day, many hacks occur after a phishing email containing malware is sent to the target. In other instances, the victims secured their logins with weak passwords or forgot to upgrade their software with the latest patch – making them easier hack.

AI technologies like machine learning have shown the potential to resolve some of these problems, said Justin Fier, director for cyberintelligence at security firm Darktrace. But it may only be a matter of time before the hackers eventually upgrade their arsenal.

That will pit cybersecurity firms against the hackers, with AI on the frontlines. "It seems like we’re heading into a world of machine versus machine cyber warfare," Fier said.

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