Artificial intelligence in cybersecurity

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Artifi cial intelligence (AI) capabilities are being recognised globally in a competitive fi eld with top researchers all seeking to dominate. Picture:

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all areas of the globe especially international travel, supply chains and business models everywhere, 2020 started as 2019 ended, with new cyberattacks, hacking incidents and data breaches coming to light almost every day.

The digital age has been one of technology increase at an exponential rate. In the recorded history of man, every age has been one of slow progress, linear at best but slowly over the years, centuries even millennia.

The introduction of the personal computer (PC) in the 1980s and microchip technology with Moore’s famous observational law of technology doubling the number of transistors in a microchip every two years at about half the cost is mindboggling.

This has held true for over 40 years. This has led to great innovations and miniaturisation of electronics devices in a short period of time. A comparison often used is that the computers used to send a man to the moon in 1969 were less capable than a mobile phone today.

One of the high tech advances in computer systems today is in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). The use of AI is slowly proliferating into all aspects of IT systems including cybersecurity.

While there is a lot of enthusiasm in using AI/ML in cybersecurity especially in automating mundane tasks of, for example checking computer daily logs for suspicious activity, the flip side is that cyber attackers are also using AI/ML in their new cyberattacks developing new vectors that could improve on the already high success rate of phishing attacks.

In fact, law enforcement reports have warned that artificial intelligence is one of the emerging technologies that could make cyberattacks more dangerous and more difficult to spot than ever before. It’s even possible that cybercriminals have already started using these techniques to help conduct hacking campaigns and malware attacks.

It’s possible that by using machine learning, cybercriminals could develop self-learning automated malware, ransomware, social engineering or phishing attacks.

They might not access to the deep wells of research and technology that cybersecurity companies have, but there’s code around that can provide cybercriminals with access to these resources.

On a national level, intelligence and espionage services need to embrace AI/ML in order to protect national security as cybercriminals and hostile nation-states increasingly look to use the technology to launch attacks.

Wars have always been won and lost on the quality of intelligence and this battlefield has merged into cyberspace.

A fact so relevant today that developed nations have military divisions within their armed forces that are specifically tasked with intelligence gathering through cyberspace and cyber warfare itself.
It seems we’ve gone from a nuclear arms race to a cyberwarfare race of sorts – both with capabilities of human incapacitation and deaths on a global scale.

On the topic of AI and its exponential development from a research project to full application into all areas of technology and human interaction, I urge caution.

I totally agree with many billionaire technologists like Bill Gates and Elon Musk that this is a Pandora’s box we have opened and in my opinion, it may already be too late to rein in through legislation and multinational agreements.

We legislate and protect against Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) weapons of mass destruction and yet the same consideration is not given to AI, which has the same capability of human destruction and unlike the other areas (NBC), of self-development without any human intervention.

  •  Ilaitia B. Tuisawau is a private cybersecurity consultant. The views expressed in this article are his and not necessarily shared by this newspaper. Mr Tuisawau can be contacted on


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