According to NSA’s director of cybersecurity, Rob Joyce, both nation state-backed hackers and criminals are utilizing generative AI in their cyberattacks. However, U.S. intelligence is also utilizing artificial intelligence technologies to detect and combat malicious activity.
“We are seeing criminal and nation state elements using AI, subscribing to popular generative AI models,” said Joyce during a conference at Fordham University. He further explained, “We’re also seeing intelligence operators and criminals on these platforms.”
Joyce acknowledges the potential threat of AI in the wrong hands, but also highlights its benefits in strengthening security measures. “AI, machine learning, and deep learning are undoubtedly making us more effective in identifying and combating malicious activity,” he stated.
“They’re in places like electric, transportation pipelines, and courts, trying to hack in so that they can cause societal disruption and panic at a time and place of their choosing,” Joyce revealed, referring to China-backed hackers targeting U.S. critical infrastructure in preparation for an invasion of Taiwan.
He also noted that these hackers are not using traditional malware, making it difficult to detect. Instead, they exploit vulnerabilities and flaws in implementation to gain unauthorized access and remain undetected.
However, AI is helping U.S. intelligence stay a step ahead. Joyce explained, “Machine learning, AI, and big data helps us surface those activities and brings them to the fore.” It allows them to identify abnormal behavior and prevent potential attacks.
The use of AI in cyberattacks and espionage campaigns is on the rise, with advanced generative AI tools capable of producing convincing fake text and imagery. In response, the Biden administration introduced an executive order to establish new standards for AI safety and security.
The Federal Trade Commission has also warned about the potential for AI to be used in fraudulent activities and scams. Joyce reiterated this concern, saying, “AI isn’t a super tool that can make someone incompetent capable, but it can make those who use it more dangerous.”
He went on to explain, “One of the first things they’re doing is generating more convincing phishing emails and manipulative content to target victims.” This is often used in malign influence campaigns, where foreign governments attempt to disrupt and interfere in elections.
Additionally, Joyce noted that AI is being used by less skilled hackers to enhance their technical capabilities. “We’re starting to see less capable people use artificial intelligence to guide their hacking operations and improve their effectiveness,” he stated.