It’s no secret that the technology industry is prone to overhyping
the latest, greatest, shiny new thing. Sometimes technology lives up to the
hype (cloud computing), and sometimes, well, not so much (blockchain).
And then there are the technologies that are impossible to overhype. Artificial intelligence (AI) is this kind of technology. Over the next five to ten years, we’re going to see AI and machine learning penetrate virtually all aspects of business, not to mention fundamentally change the way we work and live. From medical diagnoses to contract reviews and self-driving automobiles, AI will change everything.
A Cute Puppy Will Change the World
What we see today from AI—applications like chatbots and
virtual agents for customer service—is only a hint of things to come. These
applications have launched AI into what I call its “cute puppy” phase. CEOs and
other executives think it’s cute when they see a chatbot work, but it’s worth
equating the chatbot with witnessing Alexander Graham Bell’s first telephone
call—it’s pretty neat, but to the casual observer the ramifications may not be
readily apparent. Bell’s “cute” telephone wound up changing life as we know it,
acting as a catalyst eventually for the creation of the internet, smartphones,
satellite communications, and many other things in our connected world. AI will
cause a similar global transformation.
Directors need to understand this parallel to Bell and the
telephone because the effective adoption of AI will be a competitive
determinant similar to the adoption of e-commerce 20 years ago: those that
adopt the technology early and do it well will thrive, and those that don’t
will be left in the dust by a burgeoning megacompany because they didn’t adapt.
And, while virtually every functional area of the typical enterprise stands to
be transformed by AI, cybersecurity is one of the areas that stands poised to
reap enormous benefits in the near term.
How AI Transforms Cybersecurity
When we look at the critical issues in cybersecurity—the
skills shortage, the complexity of securing digital assets caused by technology
overload, the need to manage every employee (not to mention every director) as
a potential security threat, and the fact that security teams have to be
perfect while the bad guys only have to be right once—AI can potentially solve
all of them.
As a point of illustration, let’s look at how cybersecurity
teams currently manage threat detection and response. Typically, an
organization will have lots of security technologies in place that generate
alerts when they detect something suspicious. Most of these alerts are false
positives—that is, things that look suspicious but really aren’t. This approach
causes “alert overload,” where so many alerts are generated (tens of thousands
in some cases) that security teams simply cannot investigate them all, which
creates a “needle in the haystack” problem where alerts of legitimately bad threats
get lost amid the sea of false positives.
Now, imagine a world where AI manages the entire threat detection
and response process. The alert overload problem is no longer an issue, because
AI can scale to investigate and respond to every last alert within your
company’s unique architecture. Beyond that, AI learns every time it sees an
actual threat and can use that knowledge to forecast how future threats will
look. Finding the needle in the haystack is a near-impossible task for humans, but
it’s relatively trivial for AI.
This is just one simplistic example of the impact AI will
have on cybersecurity. There is a dark side to AI as well—the bad guys will use
it to create ever more sophisticated and elusive attacks. But when we look at
the lopsided “arms race” today, where the bad guys get to start the 100-meter
dash 99 meters down the track, AI will at least make it a fair race, where
everyone starts at the same line.
Living Up to the Hype
There are a number of hurdles that must be cleared before AI
can realize its potential in the cybersecurity sphere, or any other area of
business, for that matter. There are no standard AI architectures today, no
regulations (there will be), no transparency into technology vendor algorithms
so there is no way to validate how their AI is making decisions (which raises
the specter of two AI systems arguing with each other), and there are not
enough data scientists. We also haven’t really focused on securing AI itself; there
are already algorithm manipulation attacks underway, which is a problem that
must be stopped dead in its tracks.
But, as with e-commerce, the benefits of AI are so profound
that these initial hurdles will be cleared, and cleared quickly. So, when we
look at solving today’s problems with cybersecurity, will AI live up to its
hype? The vote here is a resounding yes—the technology really is that
Greg Baker is the vice president and general manager of Cyber Digital Transformation at Optiv.