In cybersecurity, innovation is critical to fence in the constantly increasing attacks from cybercriminals. And the rise of innovation in cybersecurity is showing no signs of slowing down. New ventures emerge every year that quickly become the new must-have security applications that will strengthen an organization’s security posture. Just type “hottest cybersecurity startups” into your web browser search bar and you will be met with a slew of companies identified as the next big thing, including businesses using machine learning for smarter threat intelligence and those that promise to secure the Internet of Things.
Investors are certainly keeping an eye on this space, infusing the industry with cash that is helping to fuel more innovation in cybersecurity. According to CB Insights, investors dumped $3.5 billion into cybersecurity companies in 2016, and that number has likely increased seeing as how “The first quarter of 2017 set a five-year record for deals in the private security space.”
More recently, the emergence of artificial intelligence — a not-so-new technology in regard to its application in cybersecurity — has been the focus of venture capitalists, vendors, analysts and large customers as the new bleeding-edge technology that will potentially curb cyberattacks. AI’s value proposition is appealing in an industry with a skills shortageand an ever-increasing volume of security logs and alerts to analyze and react to. AI can be a force multiplier, aiding IT teams that are wading through thousands upon thousands of security alerts every day, struggling to keep up with potential attacks in progress. With AI taking on the burden of sorting through the signal-to-noise ratio to find potential threats more quickly, IT teams can be more effective at taking down those threats before the damage is done.
AI is a great example of a technology that, when applied to cybersecurity, can smartly advance IT efficiency and security, particularly for those enterprises that are constrained by time and resources. There are clear advantages for companies that choose to utilize AI in their cybersecurity efforts, as I discussed in a previous Forbes article. But what we have not fully considered is how this type of technology innovation may introduce new areas of exposure that hackers can use to their advantage. The more we innovate in cybersecurity, the more fuel to the proverbial fire we may be providing to cybercriminals.
Consider this: While it may be incredibly easy for a hacker to use social engineering to trick someone into clicking on a link or giving up their login credentials, it is just as easy, if not easier for a hacker to use AI to their advantage. A recent study found that when deploying a phishing scheme against humans, it was not the hacker who had the higher click-through rate but actually the artificial hacker who succeeded more often in converting those malicious click-throughs into successful phishing attacks.
AI also has the advantage against its human counterparts in how it can speed through mounds of data. On one hand, infusing AI into cybersecurity processes can arm IT teams to detect potential threats more quickly. On the other hand, AI bots are doing the exact same thing, but to the benefit of cybercriminals. Hackers, aided by AI, can quickly mine through mounds of data to extract sensitive PII data or a carry out a series of rapidly coordinated attacks against humans. When you pit humans against AI bots, it quickly becomes an unfair fight.
So where does that leave us as an industry? To innovate or not to innovate, that is the question. But we cannot afford to slow down on innovation. Yet we can’t completely lock down and restrict access to all sensitive assets, either. However, the more we innovate, the more we have to continually up our defenses to stay ahead of attackers. This is why we do not see the cyber war ending — because innovation is actually fueled from both sides of the law. This feels a lot like business as usual in cybersecurity — where the white hats build a wall that they know will soon crumble so they come prepared to build a new wall as a backup. And the cycle continues.
Going back to the original premise of AI and cybersecurity, however, one thing is clear: While hackers may be using AI to their advantage, so are we, and this level of innovation must continue. The silver lining is that despite hackers seemingly always being one step ahead, their eagerness to find new ways to thwart our detection and prevention techniques provides the necessary push our industry needs to innovate.
This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.