As it edges closer to the next decade, security analysts and citizens are becoming more and more concerned about the pace at which artificial intelligence (AI) is developing and having an impact on day to day life.
Elon Musk has repeatedly fended off criticism and maintained that Artificial intelligence may one day become a danger to mankind. However, this future projection may already be here.
The Stuxnet Virus that temporarily hindered Iran’s nuclear centrifuges was a clear example of the far reach and physical impact that can be inflicted by a nation-state. Years later, the ‘NotPetya’ cyber-attack, in conjunction with the ‘WannaCry’ attack, devastated computer systems across the world. These attacks are crafted and conducted manually by individuals or groups, however, leaked documents from Edward Snowden demonstrated that artificial intelligence and hacking plays an important role in the NSA’s global malware infection campaign.
Whilst some may unwittingly assume that artificial intelligence and hacking may be a phenomenon of the future, leaked documents released four years ago in 2014 detail a different outlook. According to one document, “Turbine” is the code name for the NSA’s automated global “implant” or malware campaign which makes “up the Active SIGINT system”.
In the words of the NSA, Turbine’s Active SIGINT system “offers a more aggressive approach to SIGINT” which allows the NSA’s infrastructure to send “millions of implants”. This claim is based on the conclusion by the NSA that humans hinder the ability to maximise the effectiveness of global infection campaigns. Accordingly, “One of the greatest challenges for Active SIGINT/ attack is scale. Human “drivers” limit the ability for large-scale exploitation (humans tend to operate within their own environment, not taking into account the bigger picture.”
At first glance, this assessment spells great danger for cybersecurity, as sophisticated intelligence services have the capability to send infectious malware to targets around the world with relative ease. Conversely, private vendors such as Vectra have engineered and made use of Artificial intelligence to protect the systems of their clients. Vectra “is the world leader in applying AI to detect and respond to cyber attacks in real time” which has made great strides in stopping cybercriminals. Much like the NSA, Vectra realises the power and speed of turning to AI, stating that:
“By automating the manual, time-consuming analysis of security events, Cognito condenses days or weeks of work into minutes and reduces the threat investigation workload by up to 29x.”
With advanced threat detection systems being powered by AI perhaps it is too early to be alarmed. Having said this, one does not know if the NSA’s methods are capable of evading some of the most advanced AI systems designed to root out cyber-attacks. Furthermore, it is a long way from every school, hospital, organisation and individual being protected by organisations such as Vectra.
Looking forward, the future of cybersecurity is fraught with danger as the NSA will not be the only intelligence service that seeks to develop AI technology to infiltrate computers. As this trend picks up, one cannot help but wonder how long it will be until this know-how trickles down to criminals on a worldwide scale. Now that Pandora’s cyber box has been opened it cannot be closed. For now, all one can hope for is closer intelligence sharing between vendors and between institutions in order to further knowledge about the sophistication of cybercriminals. Whilst it may sound hopeless to some, pressure must be put on governments to restrain “Active SIGINT” that seek to spread malware all over the globe.
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