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If you’re undecided about whether AI is the best or worst thing to happen to cybersecurity––you’re not alone. From a short-term perspective, AI’s potential to automate security on a broader scale offers an advantage. Yet releasing a technology designed to replace humans makes even the most confident expert take a few steps back. There’s definitely a risk if attackers learn to use the technology to serve their cybercriminal fantasies. 

Each evolution of computing brings new security threats and new tools to fight them. From PC networks to cloud computing to mobile, new ways to store data will introduce unfamiliar vulnerabilities, larger attack vectors, and easier targets. Are we living in a cybersecurity dream or a nightmare?

Financial Motives

In a prediction last year, a report forecast showed that the annual cost of data breaches would increase from $3 trillion in 2019 to $5 trillion by 2024. This prediction is driven by a mix of regulation fines, lost revenue, and recovery costs. But the biggest driving force of all? Artificial intelligence. 

Most businesses are considered digital these days, so the demand for infrastructure defense is high. Back in 2014, the global cybersecurity market was worth $3.5 million, but dramatically increased to $120 billion in 2017. The overall projection is expected to be an annual average of $200 billion over the next five years. 

One big spender, tech giant Microsoft, is expected to spend $1 billion each year on infrastructure defense. These projections are due to the growing costs of recruiting talent. AI boosters believe advanced technology will reduce costs by requiring fewer humans.

AI Saves the Day

In a statement on AI and cybersecurity last year, it was reported that 69% of enterprise executives felt that AI was essential for combating cyber threats. Telecom led all other industries, with 80% of executives backing AI defenses. At the low end was utilities executives, with only 59% sharing that opinion. 

Last year, Comcast made an unexpected move when it announced BlueVector, a spinoff of defense contractor Northrop Grumman, that uses AI and machine learning to detect sophisticated and complex cyberattacks. Recently, Comcast announced that it wanted to initially use the technology internally, but would like to make it a profitable service to offer to customers. 

Not long after, Comcast launched Xfinity xFi Advanced Security, which gives customers security for all devices that are covered under the same network. 

Despite the supposed security blanket in-home AI provides, executives are still wary of the vulnerabilities that in-home networks may face during a data breach. If a company like Comcast wants to introduce AI cybersecurity to customers, they better make sure it holds up against cyberthreats. 

The Dark Side of AI

Though AI sounds like a potentially utopian future of robots and computers that politely serve their masters, a dystopian twist could be on the horizon. According to experts, 2020 is the year where hackers are predicted to unleash attacks that leverage AI and machine learning. 

In a 2019 report, Malwarebytes listed a number of ways it expects cybercriminals to start using AI in 2020––including incorporating artificial intelligence into malware. In this scenario, the malware uses AI to target users more precisely, trick automated detection systems, and threaten large stashes of private financial information

The worst part about this side of AI is, researchers are befuddled on how to stop it from being taken over by cybercriminals. 

The Offense-Defense Balance of AI

AI is a double-edged sword that can have negative consequences if it falls into the wrong hands. In response to the possible misuse of AI, the cybersecurity industry is doing all it can to make sure it stays one step ahead of malicious cybercriminals. 

In 2018, BlackBerry acquired the cybersecurity startup Cylance for $1.4 billion. Cylance developed a platform that uses AI to detect weaknesses in networks and perform shutdowns if necessary. Last summer, BlackBerry, with a team of 120 researchers, created a new business that focuses on cybersecurity research and development. Cylance was a huge component of the lab, and the company stated that machine learning would be among the highest priority areas of focus. 

In addition to their latest announcement, BlackBerry created BlackBerry Intelligent Security, a cloud-based service that utilizes AI to adapt security protocols for its employees based on location and usage. The system is designed to keep a device safe without having to require maximum security settings. 

What Can We Do About AI? 

Love it or leave it, AI is likely here for the long haul. Despite the major risks and ethical quandaries associated with AI, cybersecurity experts are doing all they can to ensure they stay ahead of new and foreign technologies. Even though AI promises massive efficiencies and increased defensive power, underneath lies a possibly dark and insidious future for artificial intelligence. 

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