As artificial intelligence (AI) technology continues to evolve, cybercriminals are beginning to explore the full potential of these advances. Previously, some of the gating factors of ransomware were around the expertise and volume of work required to launch a successful attack. Even though ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) existed where some or all the ransomware attack could be jobbed out to a ransomware provider, that meant a would-be ransomware attacker would have to trust another criminal, the RaaS provider. For ransomware attackers that were able to do the work themselves, there was a lot of manual work required, which limited the scope, effectiveness, and volume of the attacks.
With AI in the picture, many of these limitations are lifted. Attackers of all experience levels can use AI to increase the number of attacks that their organization can carry out, as well as improve the effectiveness of the attacks and help to fill in the limitations of their criminal organization. How will that look in practice?
Criminals can use AI to automate time-consuming activities and optimize existing procedures. This includes:
- Using machine learning to hide and blend in with normal activity, such as hiding data exfiltration in with normal traffic. This will make it more difficult for organizations to detect these attacks and stop them.
- Automating research of targets on social media. Rather than manually researching one site to gather details, AI can consolidate research from multiple sites to make a more effective, faster phishing attack and drive the attacks out to a higher volume of potential victims.
- Writing more effective phishing emails even in a non-native language. Currently, attacks can often be detected if they are written by someone who is not fluent because usage, grammar, and spelling errors make them easier to identify. AI is already very fast and effective at crafting effective and accurate phishing messages.
- Processing information to look for vulnerabilities and figure out how to defeat safeguards so they can be exploited before they are fixed.
- Writing and revising code with natural language prompts, which makes this step in an attack much easier and faster. This also means that cybercriminals can use less experienced staff to build attacks, and they can make better use of the most experienced engineers.
This means that everyone should expect a higher volume of ransomware attacks that are more sophisticated and more effectivene as AI will enable more ransomware criminals and make them more successful. But it’s not all bad news. AI can also be very effective in preventing AI-enabled attacks.
How to protect your business from ransomware attacks
AI is also revolutionizing the way we will respond to these ransomware attacks. As ransomware attacks become more sophisticated, AI tools are becoming more effective at detecting and mitigating these threats.
To protect your organization, you need to fight fire with fire by leveraging AI technology to detect, prevent, and recover from ransomware.
Here are some best practices to consider:
1. Protect your email from phishing by using AI to help detect phishing emails — before they even hit your employees’ inboxes. AI technology can leverage machine learning models to scan through massive amounts of data in real time to identify suspicious activities or patterns. This includes detecting malicious file attachments or other indicators of compromise (IOCs) hidden within emails before they can cause damage to the network.
2. Protect your web applications. Your web applications are at risk if you have any web forms — you don’t need to have an e-commerce site to be at risk. These applications can be at risk from attacks by bots acting like humans to evade detection, unprotected APIs, credential stuffing and brute-force attacks. You need a web application firewall that can detect and protect with continuous machine learning to keep ahead of the AI that attackers are now using.
3. Protect your credentials. Zero Trust can add additional levels of security. It ties user credentials to a trusted device so that an attacker who has a stolen username/password will not be able to get network access.
4. Employee training. Training employees on how to recognize suspicious emails and attachments can go a long way in preventing successful phishing attacks that can lead to ransomware infections. AI can be used to improve your training so that it is more effective by identifying the employees most at risk and modeling attacks for employees so that they can recognize the latest methods before it’s too late.
5. Regular backups. It is essential to ensure that you have a regular backup schedule for all important data and keep those backups separate from the organization’s central network so that you can recover from ransomware attacks. Your backups should also be well-protected with end-to-end encryption and strong access controls.
6. Employ AI-security solutions. Leveraging AI-based security solutions such as XDR can help detect and respond to ransomware attacks in real time. With XDR, AI attacks can be detected in hours where it might take weeks or months without AI-powered detection.
7. Keep software and systems patched. Always ensure that your organization’s software and systems are updated with the latest patches to minimize vulnerabilities.
In conclusion, AI technology has significantly impacted ransomware by making the attacks more effective and increasing the volume of the attacks. With AI-enabled cybersecurity solutions, companies can mitigate the risks of ransomware attacks and minimize the impact they may have. Adopting a multilayered approach to ransomware will help businesses protect their reputation, customers, and bottom line.
To get the additional insights about the current ransomware threat landscape and what you can do to safeguard your data from bad actors putting AI to use for new and more damaging attacks, check out our new e-book “This changes everything: Ransomware in the age of AI.”