Why AI and machine learning are your best defence against cyber attack

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We’re still a long way from general-purpose artificial intelligence (AI), and hopefully even further away from the time when they rebel, but AI and machine learning (ML) technology is here today and for SMEs they can make all the difference when it comes to cybersecurity.

Carbonite + Webroot recently undertook a survey of SMEs attitudes on cybersecurity and the importance of having AI and ML in security solutions to defend against attacks.

The report, Fact or Fiction: Perceptions and Misconceptions on AI and Machine Learning in Cybersecurity, surveyed decision-makers at companies with less than 250 staff across Australia and New Zealand. For SMEs in the region, most claimed to have some knowledge or understanding of AI and ML, but in comparison to other geographies, local businesses were also more concerned their company could experience an attack or data breach.

The realities of risks to SMEs

It’s a sobering fact that almost half of SMEs say their business data has been stolen or breached at least once. For those engaged in B2B trade, this finding is particularly worrying because 67 per cent of businesses surveyed indicated a breach in the supply chain was reason enough to consider terminating their relationship with that vendor.

In contrast, there’s a lot of confidence among SME decision-makers about their preparedness for a cyber-attack. Seventy-four per cent believe their data is protected from most or all cyber-attacks, 20 per cent think they’re safe from some attacks and 7 per cent say they are unsure or think they could be at risk.

Is this false confidence? Perhaps, but SMEs are facing greater risks during the pandemic and increased operations online have resulted in increased concern. Over a quarter, 28 per cent, of decision-makers said downtime was a major issue if they had a breach, while an equal number were concerned about loss of revenue. That loss of revenue goes hand in hand with a loss of customer trust (42 per cent) and a loss of valuable data (45 per cent), which could potentially affect business continuity.

A powerful role

What this means is that it’s critical SMEs protect their business, even if they don’t think they’re going to be targeted. Despite limited knowledge of AI and ML, the vast majority of SME business leaders (87 per cent) believe AI and ML have a powerful role to play when defending against cyber-attack.

Using AI and ML, security vendors can avert the vast majority of attacks before they happen, minimising the risk SMEs face. These technologies also have feedback loops, so they learn from experience to inform future actions. When applied well, they offer powerful protection against attacks and data loss – automatically strengthening threat detection and prevention, and constantly self-improving with the right human support. As more sophisticated threats appear, it is essential that businesses deeply understand the technology for careful selection and application, and educate integral teams on the benefits of these solutions so they can better spot any security gaps and respond to cyber-attacks.

SMEs often don’t have the dedicated security resources of a larger organisation, which is why it’s important to partner with a company able to advise on the right AI and ML products and configurations to suit each business’ unique environment and needs.

If investing in a new solution isn’t feasible, the next best step is to invest in training employees to ensure maximum effectiveness of the tools already in place.

Business owners need to have a strong cyber resilience strategy in place that protects valuable company data. We might not be anywhere near having a HAL-like intelligence guarding the cyber-gates but artificial intelligence and machine learning can make an important difference in a cyber-resilience and security posture, helping protect SMEs from becoming the next target.