(Editor’s note: This is the 11th installment of a monthly column on the growing number of cyberthreats facing businesses of all sizes and what they can do about it. See previous installments here.)
Our news cycles are flooded with stories, both positive and negative, about Artificial Intelligence.
On one hand, we read articles praising AI’s power and its transformative impact on industries such as health care, enabling doctors to interview, diagnose and treat patients more effectively and efficiently.
Yet, the Center for AI Safety has also warned of the potential for AI to lead to humanity’s extinction, saying that, “Mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority.” Executives from OpenAI, DeepMind, and other leading AI researchers are also sounding the alarm.
The dichotomy of these perspectives on the rewards and risks of AI can be mind-boggling, to say the least.
The remarkable abilities of AI platforms, capable of generating human-like content, artwork, music, software code and more creative tasks that traditionally have been the work of humans can now be delegated to AI programs.
This has raised fears among skeptics that business leaders will swiftly displace their entire workforce. However, the reality I see contradicts this belief.
Rather than replacing humans, business leaders are leveraging these technologies to optimize productivity, enhance efficiency and deliver higher-quality results. Today’s business leaders must grapple with the need to embrace AI to stay competitive. Failure to leverage these tools could leave them struggling to keep up with the pace of business innovation.
While AI rapidly revolutionizes industries by automating tasks, augmenting decision-making and fostering innovation, leaders realize that AI can pose a significant risk to businesses as well.
For instance, AI can be harnessed to craft sophisticated cyberattacks, such as generating phishing emails that are likely to deceive recipients.
Misuse of data is another concern, as AI can collect and analyze vast amounts of information, potentially leading to targeted advertising or discriminatory practices against certain groups.
Security and privacy also come under scrutiny from AI-generated text, audio, and video that threat actors can use to create sophisticated social engineering attacks against unsuspecting targets. While AI is a force multiplier for our businesses, it is also a force multiplier for the “bad guys.”
Security breaches, while already a major concern, are amplified in an AI-driven world, given the massive volume of data these systems handle. Cybercriminals can exploit vulnerabilities and undermine security defenses, resulting in data breaches, financial loss and reputational damage. The irony of using AI in our cyber defenses to combat AI-driven attacks is not lost on the cybersecurity community.
Employees using AI can also introduce significant risks to businesses. One of the biggest concerns amongst business leaders is the sharing of sensitive, confidential and intellectual property data into these AI systems.
Employees have access to valuable information and can inadvertently upload sensitive data into AI platforms, opening the door to potential data loss. This could include proprietary company information, customer data, trade secrets or other classified data that could harm the organization once it is shared to systems outside of the organization’s control.
The consequences of this can be catastrophic, where competitors may gain an unfair advantage, confidential information may be released to the public or proprietary R&D data could be exposed.
Ethical dilemmas also further complicate the AI landscape. Despite the extraordinary capabilities of AI algorithms, they are only as unbiased as the data they are trained on.
To mitigate the risks associated with employees sharing information with AI platforms, businesses must implement robust data-security controls and comprehensive data-governance practices. Basic practices such as implementing multifactor authentication, strong passwords and keeping software up to date are table stakes but are not enough to protect organizations against these modern-day cyber risks.
Leaders can start implementing comprehensive access controls to manage data access based on the principle of least privilege now, to protect their businesses. Utilizing data classification frameworks are critical in identifying and labeling sensitive data.
By clearly identifying what types of data are suitable for access, AI processing and what should be handled through more secure controls, businesses can significantly minimize the likelihood of data loss.
Educating employees about AI risks, training them to recognize sophisticated phishing and social engineering attacks and ensuring controls are in place to protect sensitive and confidential information will further strengthen your organization against these risks.
AI is on the path to revolutionize industries, enhance customer experiences and increase productivity. But we must not overlook security risks and ethical concerns. The key lies in finding the delicate balance between innovation, responsibility and security.
Next month: Why cyber-awareness training is not enough.
(Jason Albuquerque is the chief operating officer of Pawtucket-based Envision Technology Advisors LLC. You can reach him through www.envisionsuccess.net.)
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