Guest Article: AI security investment crucial to thwarting the cyber criminals

Posted: 6 June 2017 | By Emanuele Angelidis, CEO of operational investor companies Breed Reply

It’s hardly ever out of the news. Headlines abound of hackers successfully exploiting vulnerabilities in digital systems. The latest ransomware attack on the NHS shows the scale of which these attacks can occur, as well as the ongoing disruption they can cause. Staying ahead of the cyber security curve therefore has never been so important for organisations, public and private.

Just recently, a survey of 1,200 companies conducted by the British Chambers of Commerce revealed that one in five British firms was hit by a cyberattack in the past year. Three quarters of the firms also admitted to not having even basic protections in place. This creates golden opportunities for cyber criminals who have the skill and coordination to strike with minimal detection and maximum impact.

“Even businesses with some level of protection are not entirely immune”

Even businesses with some level of protection are not entirely immune. Take for example the series of cyberattacks in October last year which forced hundreds of major websites including Amazon, Twitter and Paypal to go offline for web users on the US East Coast.  Incidents like these have been on the rise and should serve as calls to action for the IT security industry which is now in a race with hackers who are already planning their next manoeuvre.

The need to develop more innovative cyber security solutions is pressing, particularly when we consider that cyber breaches have cost UK companies £42 million since 2013. This, combined with continuous warnings from analysts claiming that larger and more serious breaches should be expected, means that the industry must increase the pace of commercialising and distributing certain technologies to stay one step ahead.

Moreover, the rise of connected workplaces and growing use of mobile and cloud technologies points to the need for companies in all verticals to integrate Artificial Intelligence (AI) based cyber security into their digital operations as a defence mechanism. According to PwC however, less than a quarter (23%) have said that they are planning to do this during 2017, pointing to an information vacuum that needs to be filled.

So, what needs to be done and why the urgency?

Firstly, we‘re in an age of information overload. This data is not only unlabelled and unstructured but also dynamic, which means that predicting inputs and outputs is ever more difficult. AI is the perfect antidote to this given its capability to sift through large quantities of data and present only the relevant data to users of a range of applications. For example, Cognitiv+, a legal tech start up, applies AI to automate contract analysis in order for firms to stay abreast of legal risks and regulatory changes. Then there is Gluru that’s building an AI-powered task manager which syncs with ‘conversational data sources’ such as Gmail and Google Calendar to recognise daily tasks.

The application of ‘machine learning’ is also making headway in the light of its ability to detect breaches much more quickly. Machine learning algorithms are trained, using historical examples of breaches, to detect similar ones in the future. This enables cyber security teams to determine the appropriate action to take in order to minimise the effect of the breach. UK-based StatusToday, for example, has developed a technology which can detect outsider activity on a company’s client account, even by an employee who may have left months ago.

“It is reassuring that the government has committed to increasing cyber security spend to £1.9 billion”

StatusToday was one of several companies that received funding from the GCHQ Cyber Accelerator, a government-backed initiative for cyber security startups. The company may not have achieved the commercial success and exposure without the support that it received through this. However, whilst being an important initiative, the Accelerator cannot on its own support the plethora of similar early stage companies developing vital technologies.

It is reassuring that the government has committed to increasing cyber security spend to £1.9 billion. And we’ve seen some success stories, namely Cambridge-based Darktrace which has become a world leader in using AI to spot patterns and prevent cybercrimes before they occur. However, there is a trend for SMEs is to sell their intellectual property (‘IP’) far too readily to global giants such as Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple and Facebook.

A reversal of this trend would entail private investors providing early stage companies with the time and expertise to scale the business, rather than mere venture capital, thereby increasing the number of serious market players.

Companies like Breed Reply, operational investors in Internet of Things (‘IoT’) startups, have invested in companies such as RazorSecure which develops intelligent cyber security systems to protect planes, trains and automobiles. RazorSecure’s products not only use machine learning to detect cyber breaches, but also enable cyber security teams to configure automatic preventative actions to be taken when an attack is detected. But the difference is that the growth platform provided by Breed Reply includes business advice and distribution opportunities, alongside financial backing.

The government regularly talks about the UK’s leadership role in digital technologies. And encouraging a vibrant domestic market with strong employment opportunities is key to that ambition. According to a report by PwC, by the 2030s, more than 5% of all UK jobs will be in new robotics and AI. This could be in biometric identification or deep learning, both emerging technologies gaining traction in the broader AI and cyber security arenas.

Every sector from healthcare, education and retail to critical infrastructure, such as the grid and transport networks, is undergoing digitisation on an unprecedented scale. In turn, they all need robust cyber security mechanisms in place to stay secure and operate effectively.

“Integrating AI into cyber security will detect new threats beyond mere human capabilities”

This isn’t a challenge we can simply ignore. A report by the Hamilton Place estimates the median cost of cyber crime has gone up by nearly 200 per cent in the last five years. And this is likely to continue, with Juniper Research predicting the overall cost of data breaches rising by £1.58 trillion by 2019.

Integrating AI into cyber security will detect new threats beyond mere human capabilities. We must remove the barriers and ensure we pave a clear path for the innovators and entrepreneurs to enter and thrive in this increasingly important ecosystem.



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