Cybercrime – which has already victimized millions of people and caused billions in damages – is undergoing a worrying transformation. As with other parts of the digital landscape, artificial intelligence is making its mark on its shady underbelly.
How are hackers leveraging this emerging technology? What are the experts doing about it? What can YOU do about it? Here’s what you need to know.
A Diverse Emerging Threat
AI became a powerful tool to further hackers’ cyberattack strategies almost as soon as it exploded into the mainstream. Even though it’s a relatively recent development, crafty criminals are already leveraging the technology’s enormous potential in different ways. Worst of all, AI’s ability to quickly adapt and create ever more sophisticated threats means we’ve yet to experience its most devastating uses.
The ability to automate existing attack types is among the first and most common nefarious uses for AI. It allows hackers to seamlessly coordinate large botnets – networks of infected computers ready to do their bidding. These can execute crippling DDoS attacks, flood users with spam, or turn into a large-scale crypto mining operation.
Large data sets are the basis for any AI application, and hackers can obtain them by monitoring the systems or networks they wish to infect. It’s possible to train an AI to convincingly mimic the behavior of real users and have it slip past defenses unnoticed. The AI can also identify security vulnerabilities and pave the way for malware infection and further attacks.
Traditional malware already alters file contents and employs different techniques to stay hidden. Augmenting it with AI adds another layer of sophistication. It allows the code to remain hidden longer and activate only when enough time passes or a download threshold is reached in the case of apps. Moreover, such malware may dynamically alter its code to avoid detection by anti-malware programs.
Advanced phishing scams
Phishing is a long-standing cybersecurity concern that exploits human behavior and trust. While many past attempts are easy to recognize, large language models are making it hard to tell legitimate emails apart from fake ones. Criminals with access to a person’s social media posts, email correspondence, etc., can now craft eerily convincing messages that prompt more people to click on malicious links or give up their information.
Spreading of disinformation
Another use of AI is to help orchestrate social engineering attacks. These might take the form of misinformation campaigns on social media. The crooks will construct deepfakes and posts designed to cause outrage or attract a specific audience, then trick them into clicking on malicious links.
A similar trend is sweeping YouTube. There’s a growing number of videos instructing viewers on how to download free versions of paid software that include similar harmful links. While such videos aren’t new, advances in AI speech synthesis and video creation make them look more trustworthy.
Mimicking any human voice is one of AI’s more uncanny applications. It needs only a snippet of someone’s voice to do so convincingly, and it’s enough to fool voice-based biometrics. Fingerprints might not be safe either, which puts our reliance on biometric sign-in into question.
How Can You Fight Back?
The emergence of AI-backed cyberattacks is spurring cybersecurity specialists to fight back. This ongoing arms race transforms how they approach our defense, but it doesn’t mean tried and true best practices aren’t relevant anymore.
For example, antivirus and anti-malware programs are undergoing dramatic changes but remain simple to use. They no longer rely only on databases of known threats that need constant updates to stay relevant.
Rather, AI-assisted cybersecurity tools analyze suspicious code’s behavior and compare it to known and expected behaviors of trusted programs. This lets them create on-the-fly countermeasures that block such code from doing further harm.
A VPN is another cybersecurity staple that lessens the AI threat. Using one secures your entire connection. Since this protects your internet activity and any data you share from snooping AIs, there’s a much lower risk of exposing your personal and financial information.
Your original IP address remains hidden, too. That means there’s no data for them to build a model of your behavior plausible enough to get you to fall for a scam.
Other practices, keeping your operating system and programs updated and backing your most important files up, remain as relevant as ever.
So does switching weak passwords you use for multiple accounts with strong and unique ones. Even if an AI-assisted attack causes a data breach containing your account info, good password hygiene and two-factor authentication will prevent the worst.
Of course, you’ll want to exercise caution when choosing VPN and other providers. Investing a little into a proven paid service with real testimonials and a track record of excellence is always better. You can check Reddit’s comparison table for VPNs and evaluate them comprehensively. Services like free VPNs may sound enticing, but they’re known to sell your browsing data and are actually a cybersecurity risk rather than an effective countermeasure.
It’s not an exaggeration to state that AI’s integration into hackers’ cyberattack efforts is game-changing. We’re still in the infancy stage, and predicting what cyber threats await us even in the near future is thankless. We can only count on the continued efforts of cybersecurity professionals to stay one step ahead of the crooks.