Cybercrime is a thriving industry. According to the World Economic Forum, cybercrime represents the third-largest economy in the world today, with the United States and China topping the list. Cybersecurity Ventures predicted global cybercrime costs to reach $10.5 trillion by 2025.
In an era dominated by technological advancements, the symbiotic relationship between cyberthreats and artificial intelligence (AI) has become increasingly evident. With the integration of AI, cybercriminals are intensifying the scale and sophistication of their attacks.
Our recent webinar delved into the intricacies of this nexus, shedding light on how AI empowers cyberattacks and the pivotal role the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Framework plays in fortifying cybersecurity defenses.
AI and cyberattacks
If you are an IT professional or a cybersecurity expert, you must know that when it comes to cyberattacks, it’s no longer a matter of “if” but “when.” According to Statista, more than 72% of organizations worldwide have been affected by ransomware attacks as of 2023. Threat actors do not discriminate based on a company’s size or vertical. As per KELA’s Ransomware Victims and Network Access Sales in Q1 2023 report, in Q1 of 2023, the Manufacturing sector experienced the most frequent ransomware incidents (just under 17%), with 45% of those attacks occurring in the United States. The second most frequently attacked industry was Professional Services at around 15%, with Construction (8.6%) and Healthcare (7.2%) following right behind. With machine learning (ML) and AI coming into the picture, mitigating cybersecurity threats has become even more challenging.
Our webinar took a deep dive into how AI has revolutionized cyberattacks, making them more sophisticated and potent than ever before. AI’s ability to analyze vast datasets, identify patterns and adapt rapidly has made it a formidable ally for cybercriminals.
The marriage of AI and cyberthreats manifests in several ways:
Automated threat detection
AI algorithms are adept at automating the process of identifying vulnerabilities and exploiting them. Cybercriminals leverage machine-learning models to scan networks, applications and systems for potential weaknesses, significantly speeding up the reconnaissance phase of an attack. AI-enabled cyberattacks allow threat actors to execute large-scale, coordinated attacks rapidly, overwhelming defense systems and causing widespread disruptions.
AI enables cybercriminals to personalize attacks based on the specific vulnerabilities of their targets, for example, highly targeted and convincing phishing attacks. AI analyzes large volume datasets to craft personalized emails to trick unsuspecting individuals into divulging sensitive information or doing something that can be harmful. This level of precision and customization increases the likelihood of successful breaches and reduces the chances of detection. It’s no surprise that more than 90% of cyberattacks begin with a phishing attack.
Evasion of defense mechanisms
AI-powered cyberattacks can dynamically adapt and mutate to changing cybersecurity defenses. These self-modifying codes can learn from their environment, altering their behavior to avoid detection while infiltrating networks, compromising sensitive data and wreaking havoc on businesses of all sizes.
The NIST Framework as a pillar of cybersecurity strategy
As the discussion pivoted towards defense, the spotlight shone on the NIST Framework, which consists of guidelines, standards and best practices designed to enhance cybersecurity posture. The NIST Framework, developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, offers a structured approach to cybersecurity comprising five core functions:
This is the initial phase, which involves understanding and prioritizing an organization’s assets, vulnerabilities and risks. Organizations must identify and classify their critical assets, evaluate potential threats and assess the impact of cybersecurity risks on their operations. By comprehensively identifying potential threats, organizations can develop a robust foundation for their cybersecurity strategy.
This function focuses on implementing safeguards to ensure the integrity, confidentiality and availability of critical assets. This involves establishing security protocols, implementing access controls, deploying encryption mechanisms and educating employees on cybersecurity best practices to counteract the evolving tactics of AI-powered cyberthreats.
The “Detect” function of the NIST Framework involves continuous monitoring and proactive measures to identify and respond to cybersecurity threats promptly. It is essential to implement robust monitoring systems and technologies that can detect anomalies or suspicious activities in real time. Given the rapid adaptation of AI-driven attacks, early detection is crucial to minimizing the impact of cyber incidents and even stopping attacks before they cause any real damage.
This function outlines strategies to respond to and mitigate the impact of cyber incidents effectively. Businesses must have predefined response plans, including incident response procedures, communication protocols and a designated team to manage and minimize the impact of cyberattacks promptly. The NIST Framework stresses the importance of a quick and coordinated response to mitigate the fallout of an attack.
This is the final function of the NIST Framework, which focuses on restoring systems, processes and services affected by a cybersecurity incident. Organizations must develop strategies for recovery and resilience, including data backups, system restoration plans and post-incident analysis to learn and fortify their defenses against future threats.
Protect your data with Backupify
Businesses, both large and small, are increasingly looking to the cloud due to its agility, flexibility and cost-effectiveness. According to the Google Cloud Brand Pulse Survey, Q4 2022, over 40% of global IT leaders said they are increasing their use of cloud-based services and products, more than 30% said they plan to move from legacy enterprise software to cloud-based tools and another 32.8% said they are migrating on-premises workloads to the cloud.
Threat actors, too, realize this shift to the cloud. According to Odaseva’s The State of SaaS Ransomware Attack Preparedness report, between July 2021 and August 2022, 48% of organizations suffered a ransomware attack, and more than 50% of those attacks targeted SaaS data.
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