Head of research at F-Secure: Warning of an AI arms race with hackers


In the fight against cyber attacks, experts believe that a race with hackers in artificial intelligence is on the horizon. Attackers are likely to soon have their malware changed automatically by algorithms so that it is not recognized by antivirus programs, said the research director of the IT security company F-Secure, Mikko Hyppönen, of the German press agency.

The online criminals are currently checking at regular intervals whether, for example, their ransom Trojans are being stopped by antivirus software and are adjusting them if necessary. “This process can very easily be replaced by machine learning,” said Hyppönen. Hackers could even modify their attack software every 15 seconds to make it more difficult to detect. The only solution for the security companies would be to adapt their systems to this rate in a similar way. “We would immediately have an arms race between artificial intelligences on the bad and the good side.”

At the same time, Hyppönen warned that self-learning systems based on machine learning are now becoming so complex and non-transparent that people can hardly understand how they work. “It doesn’t feel good to build systems that you don’t understand yourself.” But that is exactly what will happen the more artificial intelligence is used in the fight against cyberattacks.

Hyppönen sees a potential great danger in as yet undiscovered weaknesses in the older WLAN protocols, which are used by all possible devices for wireless connection. “A nightmare scenario would be if someone found a security hole that could infect vulnerable devices in the vicinity.” Then, for example, you would plug in every computer within reach in the office – or every smartphone in the subway. “We haven’t seen anything like this before, but it could happen.”

Most recently, attacks with ransom Trojans on large companies made headlines. They encrypt data on computers and demand ransom for release. In the most recent cases, an important gasoline pipeline in the USA, the world’s largest meat company JBS as well as an IT service provider and numerous customers were affected.


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