Keeping Data Secure with the Emergence of AI - National Information Solutions Cooperative (NISC)

Keeping Data Secure with the Emergence of AI

At this point, we can safely assume we all have heard of artificial intelligence (AI). After all, it isn’t anything new…but the quantum leap in progress of AI surely has led to some interesting board room discussions recently…And rightfully so.

According to a 2022 IBM study, 35 percent of companies were actively using AI in their businesses. Most notably, 42 percent of those businesses surveyed were exploring their AI options.

AI definitely has its benefits: Automation of processes, increased productivity, improving the customer experience and many, many more. But as with everything in business, there are pros and cons to the use of this technology.

One of the main concerns for your organization should be data security. From malware to phishing to supply chain attacks and all the various security threats in between, the time has come for you to once again refocus on your cybersecurity strategy – and harden your technology in defense of those ever-growing threats, including those which may be ushered in by AI.

AI Benefits All – Including Cybercriminals

To put this bluntly, you aren’t the only ones benefiting from the major AI advancements.

Cybercriminals are leveraging this lucrative tool as well to increase their productivity and automate their processes – but for nefarious reasons. They are essentially using AI to build a smarter cyberattack. We live in a time where each technological advancement is greeted with much excitement, but it is imperative to find the balance where we can leverage this technology while being acutely aware of the potential risks.

And one of the major risks is data poisoning. Data poisoning is not new to the tech world either…But it is a very serious concern in the face of increased AI adoption. To better understand the threat, it is first important to understand what AI truly is. AI is powered by advanced machine learning models; algorithms that learn patterns of the historical data it is given. AI is not just one program – it is an entire system of various technologies that work in unison to teach the model how to work now and how it can work in the future. This requires sharing a lot of data. And a lot of oversight of that data.

How is This a Threat?

Automated machine learning is brilliant – but it becomes problematic when cybercriminals gain access to the essential training data for these advanced models, which can and will negatively affect the decision making of the AI tool…And the result is the poisoning of a critical dataset.

If deployed successfully, data poisoning can allow cyber criminals a virtual backdoor into your models and circumvent many standard cybersecurity practices. This means your organization can be attacked from the inside. Poisoned data can affect your spam filters, letting more malicious emails through. It can also make malware more effective. The main goal here is to poison data to the extent that they can effectively avoid detection in the future. While data poisoning is not new, cybersecurity professionals are still uncovering daily how cybercriminals are harnessing the power of AI to cripple defense systems.

How Can We Prevent Data Poisoning?

As with all elements of cybersecurity, there is no magic bullet. The basic principles of cybersecurity are still very much at play here. But the number one key to data poisoning prevention is quite straightforward: Ensure your network and those datasets are locked and secure. Educate your staff so they are hesitant to click links and share data without double verification. Patch your systems. Lock down your computers and server access to only those who are credentialed. Continue to cultivate a strong cybersecurity posture in your organization so you can manage vulnerabilities and prevent significant impact from the inevitable attacks – and closely monitor your network and your datasets in AI.

One of the most effective tools that can be used to prevent data poisoning is penetration testing. This form of defense is interesting as cyber experts essentially attack their own system to see where the weaknesses are and then quickly respond to shore those up so cybercriminals cannot access those critical datasets that can cause errors in learning.

Beating Them at Their Own Game – Using AI to Protect Us

I bet you thought this was going to be completely dedicated to an attack on AI. Far from it. The greatest cybersecurity value AI brings is we can harness that massive computational power and turn it into a security tool. Much like AI can provide automation to your business processes, it can also help cybersecurity processes to better detect cyberattacks and launch incident response processes. AI will allow us to more efficiently and effectively detect anomalous behavior – from login attempts to unusual network activity. In a nutshell, AI can help reduce the demand of laborious and manual tasks…And use its powerful learning capabilities to evolve with your company.

But in the face of artificial intelligence, let’s not forget the human element. The most intuitive, major defense tool to combat data poisoning: Human intelligence. While AI learning is incredibly powerful, so is the human intellect. The best way to protect your data, your network, your organization is to have a security plan in place, educational training for your staff and well-trained professionals or trusted partners managing your perimeter and your vulnerabilities.

And don’t forget to back up your data frequently. Sometimes the biggest problems can be resolved with the simplest of steps.

Harness the Power

AI can bring incredible benefits you your business, but don’t forget to place defense at the forefront of your mind through multiple layers of protection and continuous education. One layer won’t do it – nor will one staff meeting.

Remain vigilant and thorough. Most importantly though, accept the fact that it can very much happen to you. No one is immune. Remember, evolving cyberattacks require an evolving cybersecurity posture.

To learn more about how NISC Cybersecurity Services can help protect you and your organization from cyberattacks, please visit and reach out to NISC’s Cybersecurity Services Team at NISC also has developed NISC CyberSense, a free educational cybersecurity kit to help organizations across the U.S. promote the importance of being safe online. You can access the kit at