AI expected to increase volume, impact of cyberattacks

All types of cyber threat actor are already using artificial intelligence (AI) to varying degrees, UK National Cyber Security Centre’s analysts say, and predict that AI “will almost certainly increase the volume and heighten the impact of cyberattacks over the next two years.”

AI increase cyberattacks

AI lowers the barrier for less skilled hackers, making it easier for them to gather information and pull off successful compromise of devices and accounts, they also noted. “This enhanced access will likely contribute to the global ransomware threat over the next two years.”

AI is upskilling less-skilled hackers

Although AI is used by all types of cyber threat actors, it will particularly benefit less-skilled ones, as it will enhance their ability to carry out social engineering attacks and create convincing phishing emails.

“Generative AI (GenAI) can already be used to enable convincing interaction with victims, including the creation of lure documents, without the translation, spelling and grammatical mistakes that often reveal phishing. This will highly likely increase over the next two years as models evolve and uptake increases,” reads the report.

With improved access and reconnaissance capabilities, ransomware is set to become an even greater threat.

Threat actors will be able to detect vulnerable devices much faster, and the ability of AI to summarize data will help them identify the most valuable data before exfiltration.

AI could also create more effective malware and exploits, and enhance vulnerability research and lateral movement, but at this moment these techniques still require a skilled human.

“AI has the potential to generate malware that could evade detection by current security filters, but only if it is trained on quality exploit data. There is a realistic possibility that highly capable states have repositories of malware that are large enough to effectively train an AI model for this purpose,” the report reveals.

With the high possibility that AI models will become increasingly sophisticated over time, cyber resilience is bound to face numerous challenges in the coming years.

“AI services lower barriers to entry, increasing the number of cyber criminals, and will boost their capability by improving the scale, speed and effectiveness of existing attack methods. Fraud and child sexual abuse are also particularly likely to be affected,” said James Babbage, Director General for Threats at the National Crime Agency.

About the assessment

The NCSC assessment of the impact of AI on the success of cyber operations has been published following the Bletchley AI Safety Summit held in November 2023, which gathered international leaders to examine benefits and risks of AI models.

The assessment used classified intelligence, industry knowledge, academic material and open source to gather information and provide judgements and predictions. Contributions of expertise were provided by government entities, industry stakeholders, and international partners.

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