Artificial intelligence: A Double-Edged Sword For SMB Cybersecurity

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Artificial intelligence: A Double-Edged Sword For SMB Cybersecurity
Credit: © Reuters.

Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) should take cybersecurity seriously because they increasingly becoming prime targets for cyberattacks. While these businesses may not have the extensive resources of large corporations, they often hold valuable customer data and intellectual property that can be lucrative for cybercriminals.

A successful cyberattack can result in financial losses, damage to reputation, and legal consequences. Therefore, prioritising cybersecurity is not only a matter of safeguarding business assets but also ensuring the trust and security of customers, which is essential for long-term success in today’s interconnected digital landscape.

Research from security software company Sophos shows that 78% of South African organisations were hit by a ransomware attack in 2023, up from 51% in 2022. Excluding ransom payments, the average cost of recovering from an attack was R14 million. In order to better understand how SMBs see cyber security and the primary difficulties businesses have in this area, Sage has conducted a global survey. According to a study conducted stolen laptops (28%) and ransom attacks (9%) were the most often reported incidents for South African SMBs. The cost of investing in cybersecurity is already significant, let alone the cost of recovering from these attacks.

With artificial intelligence (AI) rapidly maturing, the arms race between cybercriminals and businesses is about to enter a new phase. AI is likely to be a game-changer for criminals and businesses alike. Cybercriminals are already exploring using AI to launch more sophisticated and numerous attacks.

Cybersecurity companies are embedding AI into their software to make it smarter and more efficient. Machine learning (ML) and AI enable cybersecurity software to rapidly crunch through massive datasets, uncover hidden patterns in the data and identify potential threats or vulnerabilities.

The advantages of AI in cybersecurity for your small or medium business include the following:

  • Real-time response: AI-powered cybersecurity solutions can analyse massive volumes of data in real-time to identify potential threats and respond quickly. This can help you prevent data breaches and minimise damage caused by cyberattacks.
  • Enhanced threat detection: Traditional cybersecurity solutions use known patterns and signatures to identify threats. But today’s AI-powered solutions can analyse behaviour patterns and identify anomalies to detect potential new threats and stop them in their tracks.
  • Faster and more effective incident response: AI-powered cybersecurity solutions can enable your business to respond quickly and effectively in a cyberattack. For example, the software can trigger automated responses such as isolating affected systems and blocking suspicious IP addresses.
  • Automation of repetitive tasks: AI can automate routine security tasks such as patch management and vulnerability scanning. This saves time for your IT team and lets them focus on more strategic matters.
  • Support better decision-making: AI excels at collecting data and surfacing insights from it. This can give your team the comprehensive threat intelligence they need to make more informed decisions about your cybersecurity strategy.
Implementing AI in your cybersecurity environment

Many forward-thinking SMEs are already exploring AI and ML in marketing analytics and content creation applications. But cybersecurity is an especially specialised and complex field. Since many SMEs have small IT teams, many outsource their cybersecurity needs to a reseller with access to skilled personnel.

As such, a good starting point is to seek out IT resellers who have a strong understanding of AI and are equipped to offer products and services that meet your evolving demands. Ask them what the latest best practices are and which products and services they recommend. Remember that using AI isn’t a business goal. Consider how AI will solve security problems for you.

If you’re using a software-as-a-service solution from a credible vendor, the good news is that it will be hosted in a secure data centre. Your software vendor and its hosting partner will have invested in a range of service provider-class security solutions to protect your data, including the latest AI technologies.

It’s also important to consider the implications your AI platform usage has for cybersecurity and compliance with data protection and privacy regulations. You will want to ensure that you are using tools like Chat GPT, Bard, DALL-E, Midjourney, and DeepMind in a responsible manner. Check the terms and conditions to see how the owners of AI platforms will store and use your data.

Be wary of inputting proprietary data or personally identifiable information in these tools. Also, train your employees to verify the authenticity and quality of content and data they generate via AI tools. Finally, invest in educating employees to recognise and report potential social engineering attacks that use AI to create more credible-looking messages.

Staying ahead of the AI curve

SMEs increasingly need to understand and use AI technologies to drive productivity, efficiency, and competitiveness in a digital era. The report says 79% of SMBs in South Africa have adopted cybersecurity as part of their corporate culture in an effort to remain on top of developments. Making it imperative to integrate AI into your cybersecurity strategy to allow you to stay ahead in an ever-evolving risk landscape. Embracing this technology and fostering a culture of innovation can help your organisation to be more resilient, adaptable, and successful as you accelerate digital transformation.

  • Gerhard Hartman, vice president, Medium Business for Sage Africa & Middle East
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