While artificial intelligence (AI) technology has been around for a while, there is no arguing that it has become mainstream over the last year. Whenever new technology becomes mainstream, everyone looks for ways to use it to make their lives easier at home and work. While the rapid adoption of AI technology has certainly improved how we run our businesses, it has also created new opportunities for cyber threat actors.

Adversaries are increasingly utilizing AI to launch faster, broader and more effective cyberattacks. As a result, it is crucial for organizations to respond in kind by harnessing AI in their cybersecurity defense strategies. Precision AI by Palo Alto Networks is our proprietary AI system that helps security teams trust AI outcomes by using rich data and security-specific models to automate detection, prevention and remediation.

The Use of AI in Cyberattacks

Cyber threat actors are always looking for the path of least resistance to carry out their attacks. For example, they repurpose malware and often use off-the-shelf toolkits like CobaltStrike and Brute Ratel C4 to exploit weaknesses and take malicious actions with minimal effort. This same pattern of behavior has been observed with new AI technology. As new AI tools hit the market, threat actors are increasingly using them to automate and enhance various attack vectors.

Here are some ways cyber threat actors are using AI:

  • Conduct Reconnaissance – cyberattacks often start with a threat actor gathering information about their potential targets. Using AI, they can scrape publicly available information from websites, social media platforms and other online sources to gather data about an organization. This data can include personal details, affiliations, connections and other valuable information that can be used to plan and execute a cyberattack.
  • Enhance Social Engineering – Gone are the days when you could spot a phishing email because of some grammar or spelling issues. By using generative AI chatbots, threat actors can craft highly polished phishing emails, webpages and other content to increase the probability of tricking a user. This will continue to contribute to social engineering being one of the top threat vectors used in cyberattacks.
  • Develop Malicious Code – Threat actors can use AI tools to create malware and other code, even if they don’t have coding skills. Many AI tools today offer the capability of modifying or creating code by providing simple instructions or input. Threat actors can create custom scripts, develop new malware variants and continuously evolve their toolkits to avoid detection and become more effective.
  • Automated Vulnerability Exploitation – AI can be used to automate the process of discovering and exploiting vulnerabilities in applications or systems. By leveraging machine learning techniques, threat actors can quickly identify weaknesses and launch targeted attacks at a large scale.
  • Deepfake Attacks – AI-generated deepfake videos, images or audio recordings can be used to manipulate or deceive individuals. Threat actors can exploit AI technology to create convincing fake content, potentially causing reputational damage or facilitating broader cyberattacks.
  • Prompt Injection – Generative AI tools can be vulnerable to prompt injection attacks, where a threat actor is able to manipulate the output generated by the tool. By getting these tools to answer questions in an unintended way, threat actors can use prompt injection to gather sensitive information and even execute malicious code.

All of these techniques enable threat actors to carry out attacks faster and more effectively. The consequences of these attacks can be severe, ranging from financial losses and data breaches to reputational damage and operational disruptions. Moreover, the rapid evolution and adaptability of AI-driven threats make them particularly challenging for traditional cybersecurity measures to combat effectively. As a result, organizations are facing an unprecedented level of risk, necessitating a proactive and adaptive approach to cybersecurity defense. They must respond in kind by leveraging AI to counter adversarial AI.

How Organizations Can Use AI to Counter Cyberattacks

To effectively counter AI-driven cyberattacks, organizations must harness the capabilities of AI for their cybersecurity defense strategies. Implementing AI-powered security tools and strategies is a crucial aspect of countering cyberattacks.

There are some key ways organizations can leverage AI in their cybersecurity programs:

  • Threat Detection & Analysis – One key area where AI can make a substantial impact is with threat detection and analysis. AI-powered security tools can analyze vast amounts of data in real time, enabling the rapid identification of anomalous activities and potential security incidents. By leveraging machine learning algorithms, organizations can detect patterns indicative of cyberthreats and take proactive measures to mitigate risks. These tools can provide real-time response capabilities, automatically adapting their defenses to emerging threats.
  • Automated Security Operations – AI-powered security tools can automate security tasks, such as onboarding data sources, stitching disparate alerts and enriching security details. AI can also assist in automating incident response actions by rapidly analyzing and correlating security events, identifying the extent of the incident, and suggesting appropriate response actions. This reduces the burden on security teams, improves efficiency and allows them to focus on more complex and strategic security issues. High-fidelity automation can speed up mean time to detect (MTTD) and mean time to respond (MTTR), reducing the impact of cyberattacks and minimizing vulnerability windows.
  • Threat Intelligence Analysis – Proactive threat intelligence and predictive analytics are essential components of a cybersecurity strategy. AI can analyze diverse security data sources in real-time to identify emerging threats and anticipate potential attack vectors. This may include leveraging adversarial AI techniques to generate and learn about attacks, so that defenses can be continuously improved. By leveraging AI for proactive defense, organizations can stay one step ahead of adversaries and mitigate risks before they turn into full-blown attacks.

Implementing these strategies today will strengthen an organization’s ability to effectively detect and stop cyberattacks.

Future Trends and Recommendations

Looking ahead, the role of AI in cyberattacks and defense is expected to grow even further. Threat actors will continue to refine their AI-driven attack techniques, demanding constant innovation in cybersecurity strategies. To stay ahead of AI-driven threats, organizations should prioritize the following recommendations:

  • Invest in AI-powered cybersecurity solutions: Organizations should allocate resources to implement AI-powered defense systems that can adapt to evolving threats in real time.
  • Collaborate and share threat intelligence: Sharing threat intelligence with industry peers and security communities can enhance collective defense against AI-driven attacks.
  • Foster a culture of cybersecurity awareness: Educating employees about the risks and best practices related to AI-driven cyberattacks can strengthen the organization’s overall security posture.
  • Stay updated with evolving AI technologies: Organizations should remain informed about emerging AI technologies and their potential applications in both offensive and defensive cybersecurity efforts.

Harnessing AI Against Cyberthreats

In the ever-evolving landscape of cybersecurity, organizations must acknowledge the increasing use of AI by adversaries in cyberattacks. Harnessing AI for defense is no longer an option but a necessity to protect sensitive data, systems and infrastructure.

By leveraging AI for threat detection, implementing AI-powered defense systems and adopting proactive threat intelligence, organizations can strengthen their cybersecurity defenses and stay resilient against AI-driven attacks. Embracing AI in the cybersecurity landscape is not just about keeping up with adversaries; it is about staying one step ahead in the battle against cyberthreats.

Learn more about AI Precision.

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