Artificial intelligence technologies are currently being leveraged to execute intelligent cyberattacks. In fact, AI tech already developed in open source is posed to be combined with malware-based attacks, a trend that has the potential of creating new types of advanced and complex threats. One key area where AI technologies are weaponized is in concealing the criminal intents present in benign and unsuspicious applications such that the malicious behavior is triggered once the application reaches a particular target. Cybercriminals usually conceal the unwanted information through applying an AI model and then derives a private key to determine the time and place of unlocking the concealed malwares.
Any type of app feature can be pre-defined as the AI trigger for unleashing an attack. For example, a malware can be concealed to activate only after a voice recognition feature has been used. Any feature, including systems for authenticating users through visual recognition, geolocation, or the aspects implemented in a computer system to bolster identity management, can be used to trigger a hidden malware once they are used. This can cause a devastating attack, especially since cyber adversaries can use any of the aforementioned indicators to feed malicious AI models, derive a key, and then make a decision to attack at will. As such, a malware can be present in a benign application for months or years as an attacker waits to launch where targeted systems will be more vulnerable and hence susceptible to more damages.
AI Weaponization increases Sophistication
AI technologies can further be weaponized to increase the sophistication of cyber-attacks. AI powered cyber-attacks can be very targeted to a specific system or individual and evasive such that the current security tools like firewalls or IDS are overwhelmed. This would give an attacker the upper hand causing massive damages. Moreover, AI technologies are capable of introducing an entirely new speed and scale of a cyber-attack. This can be possible since attacks can be equipped with autonomous and intelligent reasoning that can cause attacks to spread independent of any input or control from the attackers.
AI can Adapt to New Environments
Also, one unique factor about AI is its ability to adapt to a new environment or to use intelligence or knowledge acquired from past occurrences. The same can be applied in creating intelligent viruses and malwares or modelling adaptable attacks. AI technologies are capable of learning and retaining what worked during an attack, as well as take stock of hindrances. Therefore, cyber-attacks based on AI can fail in a first attempt, but their ability to adapt can result to a successful attack on a second trial. Due to this, the security community and leading security firms need to gain an in-depth understanding of the basics behind the creation of AI powered attacks and their subsequent capabilities so that they can develop effective controls and mitigations.
Weaponizing cyber-attacks with AI can also create intelligent malwares that can self-propagate in a network or computer system. The malware can exploit any vulnerability they come across thus increasing the likelihood of fully compromising the targeted networks. The potential destructions associated with such malwares is unfathomable. WannaCry, one of the largest and most devastating ransomware attacks in history, exploited only one vulnerability, the EternalBlue exploit. Imagine the potential destruction had an AI powered malware attack been executed. AI malwares can use other forms of attacks in case a selected vulnerability has been patched.
AI Attacks can Learn
AI can also be weaponized to enable malwares to mimic components of a trusted system thus improving stealth attacks. For instance, rather than guessing the periods which an organization conducts business operations, AI can be used to automatically learn it. It can also learn the environment used in computations, i.e. Windows or Linux environment, the most used communication protocols, updates to security apparatus, and so on. This can enable an attacker to execute attacks that completely blend in with the security environments such that it is difficult to detect the attack. Therefore, AI can power stealth attacks capable of compromising a targeted without detection.
AI weaponization is on the rise and cyber-attacks will only become autonomous, stealth, increase in speed and sophistication, and be able to exploit several vulnerabilities all at once. Extrapolation of attacks powered by AI reveals that malwares possess sophisticated characteristics but with a narrow input or understanding on AI. A combination of the characteristics will lead to a shift in the current cybersecurity paradigm. Organizations have to step-up their ability to counter emerging AI cyber threats. A preventive strategy is currently the best cybersecurity approach but with advanced AI attacks, security will have to consider implementing AI enabled defensive tactics.