Key weapon for closing IoT-era cybersecurity gaps? Artificial intelligence

Get a copy of the upcoming book "Secure Operations Technology"

As businesses struggle to combat increasingly sophisticated cybersecurity attacks, the severity of which is exacerbated by both the vanishing IT perimeters in today’s mobile and IoT era, and an acute shortage of skilled security professionals, IT security teams need a both a new approach and powerful new tools. Increasingly, they are looking to artificial intelligence (AI) as a key weapon to win the battle against stealthy threats inside their IT infrastructures.

IoT-era cybersecurity gaps

The Ponemon Institute study, entitled “How AI and Automation Can Close the IT Security Gap in the Era of IoT,” surveyed 4,000 security and IT professionals across the Americas, Europe and Asia, to understand what makes security deficiencies so hard to fix, and what types of technologies and processes are needed to stay a step ahead of bad actors within the new threat landscape.

The research revealed that in the quest to protect data and other high-value assets, security systems incorporating machine-learning and other AI-based technologies are essential for detecting and stopping attacks that target users and IoT devices. The majority of respondents agree that security products with AI functionality will help to:

  • Reduce false alerts (68 percent)
  • Increase their team’s effectiveness (63 percent)
  • Provide greater investigation efficiencies (60 percent)
  • Advance their ability to more quickly discover and respond to stealthy attacks that have evaded perimeter defense systems (56 percent).

Twenty-five percent of respondents said they currently use some form of AI-based security solution, with another 26 percent stating they plan on deploying these types of products within the next 12 months.

“Despite massive investments in cybersecurity programs, our research found most businesses are still unable to stop advanced, targeted attacks, with 45 percent believing they are not realizing the full value of their defense arsenal,” said Larry Ponemon, chairman, Ponemon Institute. “The situation has become a ‘perfect storm’, with nearly half of respondents saying it’s very difficult to protect complex and dynamically changing attack surfaces, especially given the current lack of security staff with the necessary skills and expertise to battle today’s persistent, sophisticated, well trained and well financed attackers.

Against this backdrop, AI-based security tools, which can automate tasks and free up IT personnel to manage other aspects of a security program, were viewed as critical for helping businesses keep up with increasing threat levels.”

IoT devices represent significant risk

Ponemon researchers found that the majority of IT security teams believe that a key gap in their company’s overall security strategy is their inability to identify attacks that use IoT devices as the point of entry. In fact, more than three-quarters of respondents believe their IoT devices are not secure, with 60 percent stating even simple IoT devices pose a threat. Two-thirds of respondents admitted they have little or no ability to protect their “things” from attacks. Continuous monitoring of network traffic, closed-loop detection and response systems, and detecting behavioral anomalies among peer groups of IoT devices were cited as the most effective approaches to better protect their environments.

Even the ownership model for IoT security presents potential risk. When asked who inside their organization was responsible for IoT security, responses ranged from the CIO, CISO, CTO, and line-of- business leaders, with no majority consensus. Only 33 percent identified the CIO, with no other executive or functional group achieving response totals above 20 percent. “No Function” was the third-highest answer (15 percent).

Survey results also highlighted the importance of visibility and the ability to define which resources people and IoT devices can access, with 63 percent of respondents stating network access control is an important element of their company’s overall security strategy and critical for reducing the reach of inside exploits. Also cited as important was having detailed information about applications (71 percent), endpoints (69 percent), cloud (64 percent), and networks (63 percent), with more than half saying they currently deploy network access control solutions for enabling visibility and control across both wired and wireless networks.