AI cyber attacks are a ‘critical threat’. This is how NATO is countering them

AI cyber attacks are a ‘critical threat’. This is how NATO is countering them

Artificial intelligence (AI) is playing a massive role in cyber-attacks and is proving both a “double-edged sword” and a “major challenge”, according to NATO.

“Artificial intelligence allows defenders to scan networks more automatically and repel attacks rather than doing it manually. But the other way around, it’s obviously the same game,” David van Weel, NATO’s Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges at NATO, told reporters earlier this month.

Cyber ​​attacks, both on national infrastructure and private companies, have increased exponentially and become a focal point since the war in Ukraine. NATO said this year that a cyber attack on any of its member states could trigger Article 5, which means that an attack on one member is considered an attack on all of them and could trigger a collective response.

AI-based tools can be used to better detect and protect against threats, but on the other hand, cybercriminals can use the technology for more sporadic attacks that are harder to defend against because there are so many of them at once.

AI can be used to try to break into networks using credentials and algorithms to crack systems, van Weel said.

Trying to solve the combinations “is a big challenge,” he said, adding, “of course we want to be ethical users of AI”.

He said AI will be used for defense “but of course we cannot guarantee that our adversaries, who are the ones trying to break in, use AI in the same ethical way”.

“That’s something we have to take into account in our defense. It is definitely something we are watching”.

Cyber ​​defense put to the test

Just how to defend against AI cyber attacks is what is being tested in Estonia’s capital Tallinn at the CR14 NATO Cyber ​​Range.

Earlier this month, military commanders from more than 30 countries (not all of them NATO members) descended on the cyber range to test their skills on how they would defend their country while working with their allies.

Fictional storylines were created and one of the biggest challenges of the annual event was dealing with the threat of AI attacks.

“In the AI ​​experiment, it’s basically a two-way street. It’s recognizing AI used by adversaries and it’s on the other side exploring how AI can support our own operations,” said Bernd Hansen, branch chief of cyberspace at NATO Allied Command Transformation.

“We are exposing the technical experiments to the operational community to ensure that what we are trying to develop from a technical perspective really serves the operator – so that we are not marching left when they want us to march right,” he told Euronews Next said.

The exercises have helped those taking part, but there is still a long way to go to counter the menace.

AI is “certainly a strong issue that I think the cyber community is addressing,” said Candace Sanchez, chief executive planner for the US who participated in the cyber exercises.

“But I think it’s going to take some time to really try to counter that threat. So working together in those efforts to try to do that, I think will help us move forward,” she told Euronews Next.

The Price of Internet Freedom

AI cyberattacks can be used not only to shut down infrastructure, but also to mine information, said Alberto Domingo, technical director of cyberspace at NATO Allied Command Transformation.

“I think AI is a critical threat. The number of attacks is increasing exponentially all the time,” he told Euronews Next, adding that at the moment the world is simply “living with these attacks” and needs more cyber security rules.

“We are not yet at a stage where we identify that this is simply not acceptable. This behavior cannot be allowed in cyberspace,” he said.

“It shows you that we still don’t have a collective common approach to respond to those things, but those things are simply not acceptable”.

Although solutions are being worked on to tackle AI cyber attacks, Domingo said we cannot stop them if we still want the internet to be a place of free thought and independence.

“We have created cyberspace in a way that is open to everyone. It is an environment for the development of ideas. This is what we want. We want freedom in cyberspace,” he said, adding that stopping it in favor of limiting what we can do on the Internet is too great a cost.

“The price we have to pay for that [Internet freedom] is to be realistic and accept that there will be attacks in the networks,” he said.

“And the only way to deal with that is to use all the mechanisms and all the technologies included to protect, but also to respond and also to recover from those attacks. I don’t think we will ever be able to avoid them now”.

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