To combat generation AI-powered email threats, fight fire with fire
Human brain power is no match for hackers emboldened by AI-powered digital smash-and-grab attacks using email deceptions. Therefore, cybersecurity defenses must be guided by AI solutions that know hackers’ strategies better than they do.
This approach of fighting AI with better AI emerged as an ideal strategy in research conducted in March by cyber firm Darktrace to unearth insights into human behavior around email. The survey confirmed the need for new cyber tools to counter AI-based hacking threats targeting businesses.
The study aimed to better understand how employees globally react to potential security threats. He also painted a picture of their growing awareness of the need for better email security.
Darktrace’s global survey of 6,711 employees in the US, UK, France, Germany, Australia and the Netherlands found that respondents experienced a 135% increase in “new attacks social engineering” across thousands of active Darktrace email clients from January to February 2023. The results matched widespread adoption of ChatGPT.
These new social engineering attacks use sophisticated linguistic techniques, including increasing text volume, punctuation, and sentence length without links or attachments. The trend suggests that generative AI, such as ChatGPT, offers threat actors a way to engineer sophisticated, targeted attacks at speed and scale, researchers say.
One of the three most important takeaways from the research is that most employees are concerned about the threat of AI-generated emails, according to Max Heinemeyer, chief product officer for Darktrace.
“This is not surprising, as these emails are often indistinguishable from legitimate communications and some of the signs that employees typically look for to spot a ‘fake’ include signals like poor spelling and grammar, that chatbots are proving to be very good at getting around,” he said. says TechNewsWorld.
Darktrace asked retail, restaurant and leisure companies how concerned, if any, that hackers could use generative AI to create fraudulent emails indistinguishable from genuine communication. Eighty-two percent say they are worried.
More than half of all respondents said they were aware of what makes employees think an email is a phishing attack. The top three are prompts to click on a link or open an attachment (68%), unknown sender or unexpected content (61%), and poor use of spelling and grammar (61% ).
This is significant and troubling, as 45% of Americans surveyed said they had fallen prey to a scam email, according to Heinemeyer.
“It’s no surprise that employees are concerned about their ability to verify the legitimacy of email communications in a world where AI chatbots are increasingly able to mimic real-world conversations and generate emails devoid of all the common signs of a phishing attack, such as malicious links or attachments,” he said.
Other key findings from the survey include:
- 70% of employees worldwide have noticed an increase in the frequency of fraudulent emails and text messages in the past six months
- 87% of employees worldwide are concerned about the amount of personal information available about them online that could be used in phishing and other email scams
- 35% of respondents have tried ChatGPT or other gen AI chatbots
Safeguards against human error
The widespread accessibility of generative AI tools such as ChatGPT and the growing sophistication of nation-state actors mean email scams are more compelling than ever, Heinemeyer noted.
Innocent human error and insider threats remain a problem. Misdirecting an email is a risk for every employee and every organization. Nearly two out of five people have sent an important email to the wrong recipient with a similar alias by mistake or due to autocomplete. This error rises to more than half (51%) in the financial services sector and 41% in the legal sector.
Regardless of fault, such human errors add another layer of security risk that is not malicious. A self-learning system can detect this error before sensitive information is incorrectly shared.
In response, Darktrace unveiled a significant update to its globally-deployed messaging solution. It helps strengthen email security tools as organizations continue to rely on email as their primary tool for collaboration and communication.
“Email security tools that rely on knowledge of past threats fail to future-proof organizations and their employees in the face of evolving email threats,” he said. declared.
According to Heinemeyer, Darktrace’s latest email feature includes behavioral detections for misdirected emails that prevent intellectual property or confidential information from being sent to the wrong recipient.
AI Cybersecurity Initiative
By understanding what is normal, AI defenses can determine what does not belong in a particular individual’s inbox. Email security systems get it all too often wrong, with 79% of respondents saying their company’s spam/security filters mistakenly prevent important legitimate email from reaching their inbox.
With a deep understanding of the organization and how the individuals within it interact with their inboxes, the AI can determine for each email whether it is suspicious and should be addressed or whether it is legitimate and must remain intact.
“Tools that operate from knowledge of historical attacks will be no match for AI-generated attacks,” Heinemeyer said.
Attack analysis shows noticeable linguistic deviation – semantically and syntactically – from other phishing emails. This leaves little doubt that traditional email security tools, which operate from knowledge of historical threats, will fail to detect subtle indicators of these attacks, he explained.
To reinforce this, Darktrace research found that email security solutions, including native, cloud and static AI tools, take an average of 13 days after an attack is launched against a victim until until the violation is detected.
“This leaves defenders vulnerable for nearly two weeks if they rely solely on these tools. AI defenses that understand the business will be crucial in spotting these attacks,” he said.
AI-human partnerships are needed
Heinemeyer believes the future of email security lies in a partnership between AI and humans. In this arrangement, the algorithms are responsible for determining whether the communication is malicious or benign, thereby removing the burden of responsibility from the human.
“Training on good email security practices is important, but it alone will not stop AI-generated threats that look exactly like benign communications,” he warned.
One of the vital revolutions that AI is enabling in the messaging space is a deeper understanding of “you”. Instead of trying to predict attacks, an understanding of your employees’ behaviors should be determined based on their inbox, relationships, tone, sentiment, and hundreds of other data points, a he explained.
“By leveraging AI to combat email security threats, we are not only reducing risk, but revitalizing organizational trust and contributing to business results. In this scenario, humans are freed up to work at higher, more strategic practices,” he said.
Not a Completely Unsolvable Cybersecurity Problem
The offensive AI threat has been researched on the defensive side for a decade. Attackers will inevitably use AI to improve their operations and maximize return on investment, Heinemeyer noted.
“But it’s not something we would consider unsolvable from a defense perspective. Ironically, generative AI may be making the challenge of social engineering worse, but AI that knows you might be the parade,” he predicted.
Darktrace tested offensive AI prototypes against the company’s technology to continuously test the effectiveness of its defenses ahead of this inevitable shift in the attacker landscape. The company is confident that AI, armed with a deep understanding of the business, will be the most powerful way to defend against these threats as they evolve.
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