2020 Predictions: AI arms race gains pace

Artificial intelligence has been a staple of dystopian sci-fi for decades. Who could ever forget HAL’s starring role in Kubrick’s 1968 classic, 2001: A Space Odyssey? But it’s only in recent years – thanks to the advent of machine learning, secure cloud storage, low-cost mobile devices and cheap high-speed internet – that the incredible possibilities of the past are now a reality.

In 2020 and beyond, AI will be used a lot more in cyber security solutions to mitigate risk. We are already seeing businesses use AI to help reduce and prevent threats. However, just as AI is positively improving cyber security systems, cyber criminals are starting to use it to exploit and attack businesses. So, who will come out on top and what can organisations do to stay protected?

AI is already being used in cyber security solutions to perform laborious manual tasks and activities that in the past would have had to be done by human analysts. It can be trained to learn activities that are safe, identify threats, and adjust behaviour accordingly. The sheer volume of data that AI can process means that it is possible not only to leverage it for greater coverage, but also to release human analysts to perform higher value work which cannot easily be automated. Some of the cutting-edge software already commonly in use includes Microsoft’s Windows Defender ATP, and new flagship product called Sentinel.

AI is still a new and evolving defence, but looking forward, a rise in uptake is inevitable – especially as it continues to shift out of the 'hype cycle' and deliver tangible results.

Just as organisations use it to protect against threats, cyber criminals will use AI and machine learning to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of attacks. In particular, we will see an increase in the creation of malware with self-evolving code that adapts and learns from past behaviours. If a behaviour gets it blocked from an organisation’s network AI will learn from this and try another approach. This will mark the beginning of a shift to an AI arms race between attackers and defenders of systems, with organisations that are slow, or lacking in the skills to effectively implement new AI-based controls, becoming increasingly vulnerable.

As we move into a new decade, it is more important than ever that businesses keep abreast of the latest cyber security developments. In the future we will see more cyber-attacks impacting entire businesses and which use an organisation’s connectivity against it. The stakes could not be higher.

There’s no room for complacency; organisations need a layered cyber security strategy to mitigate risk and stay ahead of attackers. Those businesses that fail to realise the value of AI will rapidly start losing ground to those competitors that do.

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