Will Hackers Eventually Use Big Data and AI Against Us?

Will AI and Big Data help hackers more effectively access information and take control of our daily lives? It might already be happening.

February 8, 2018
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As our technology develops into the future, the chance that hackers might deliver an enormous destructive blow to the public is growing along that curve. It could be self-organized and independent hacker groups, nation-organized hacker groups or even cyberterrorists. That being said, the threat is real.

There are numerous movies showing examples of what hackers are capable of with big data hacks and what the impact of such an attack means. For example, switching off all electricity in a city, launching missiles at civilians, police stations or another army base. Hackers might be able to take control of important systems and do whatever they please for a certain amount of time.

Complex Hacks are Made Easier Thanks to AI

However, security experts have mentioned that such massively impactful hacks are not caused by a few simple tweaks in a system or a minor breach in the security defenses. Although, hackers could deploy an AI to slowly penetrate the system over time and transition slowly to a situation in which they have full control. The strategy would be to create minor changes that appear to happen naturally in order to avoid detection.

When it comes to big data, hackers could damage or tweak big data sets with relatively small adjustments in order to benefit from that. It could be, in some ways, harmless to the public but hackers could exploit yearly financial business reports for a personal advantage. Such changes in financial reporting models could also change the decision-making of CEO’s, traders, bankers and other people who base their decisions on these financial reports.

Data Integrity Hacks

A variant on these big data hacks is data-integrity hacks. The largest data breach ever discovered was reported not too long ago. Yahoo confirmed two major breaches in their database in September and December of 2016, however, the breach occurred way earlier than reported. Yahoo confirmed that these two data breaches took place in August 2013 and late 2014. All of their 3 billion users were affected by this attack.

There are similar reports on the data breach at TalkTalk, where reportedly 550 million records were stolen. Another shocking fact about this attack is that a 16-year old kid was responsible for it, showing that age is not all that matters when it comes to hacking huge databases.

In the future, hackers could potentially break into systems operating on computers that controls important technological equipment that manages water levels, gas pressure, train networks etc. By taking control of these systems, hackers can change the operational settings or manually create chaos. This could potentially have a destructive effect.

Based on the research conducted by experts, it was confirmed that this was definitely possible. Although reports of such events haven’t reached the public yet, it may have happened already.

International Incidents and Machine Learning

That Matthew Bevan and Richard Price accessed and gained sensitive material from a North Korean nuclear facility, imagine what could happen if they were able to launch one of the missiles. These two hackers infiltrated the North Korean systems through U.S. systems. Which, at the time, nearly started an international incident. Such a catastrophic event could have an immediate effect on civilians all over the world.

Many security companies build security solutions based on machine learning algorithms. Yet, hackers are using the exact same technology to build attacks. For example, spear phishing emails target high-profile individuals and hackers could deploy a machine learning project in order to create very relevant and personal emails, which will yield a much higher click-through-rate.

Furthermore, most antivirus scanners use a detection system that is connected to a database with known types of viruses, malware, Trojans etc. When there’s a match, the virus scanner will alert you. However, increasingly sophisticated malware can be created by machine learning and possibly modify the code of the malware slightly so it will bypass any virus scanner.

So, what can you do to protect yourself?

First, you will never be able to control the outcome of every breach, no matter what personal security measures you take. However, there are a few things you can do to minimize the risk.

1) Unique Passwords

Never use the same password. Password security is a real problem. Preferably, use a lengthy and complex password. If you run out of ideas, simply download a password generator and save it in a secure place in case you can’t remember it. It would be best to write down the username and password on a piece of paper though.

2) Change Passwords

For example, Yahoo’s database was breached in 2013 & 2014, yet they reported it to the public in 2016. This is a perfect example to change your passwords regularly. You’re not always aware of the fact that your information has been compromised in time.

3) Two-factor Authentication

Two-factor authentication is based on real-time authentication methods asking you to allow to login. It could either be a message with a unique code that you receive on your phone or an app such as Google Authenticator, which refreshes to a unique code every ~10-20 seconds.