AI Cybersecurity Arms Race and Jobs

09-11-2020 | By Robin Mitchell

A recent report from Exabeam shows that younger generation workers are increasingly worried about their jobs being replaced by AI systems. What challenges does AI and automation play in the workforce, how is AI affecting the cyberworld, and are some jobs destined to be replaced?

“Learn to code” – The Flawed Argument for Job Replacement

Artificial Intelligence (AI), and automation have helped drive technological change and have bought with them highly advanced systems ranging from AI smart assistants to self-driving vehicles. While such applications would be virtually impossible with AI and automation, there is an increasing trend in replacing human workers with automated systems to reduce operating costs while increasing productivity. Just like many industrial revolutions of the past, the introduction of modern technology is difficult to stop, and each revolution sees an increase in productivity and a better standard of life. However, unlike other technological revolutions, the introduction of automation and AI may consume more jobs than it creates. For example, workers of the past who would carve wood by hand would be replaced with a lathe, but their wood carving skills are still needed in other areas including operating the lathe, fine detail, and other factory floor work where those skills can easily be transferred. 

However, those being replaced by automation are struggling to find alternative work as automation can replace most jobs that they are skilled in. A few years ago, journalist around the world adopted the term “learn to code” for such individuals as a suggestion that low-skilled workers should learn to use computers. However, coding is not a skill that everyone can pick up easily. Thus if automation replaces large portions of the workforce, then mass unemployment may become an issue as those individuals cannot learn the skills needed to work on more advanced systems. However, those who would have thought their jobs to be secure from automation are now feeling the heat, and younger generations are starting to see the ramifications of AI and automation. 

AI – Pandoras Box

AI and automation are highly effective tools for optimising tasks as well as being able to decipher complex information. However, the introduction of these technologies has been akin to Pandoras Box; once opened and released to the world, it cannot be closed. One area, in particular, that is starting to see this issue in the world of cybersecurity. 

Cybercriminals of the past would always launch attacks manually, and at worse design programs that can infect a large number of machines which accept commands from a control centre. Viruses sent by email would be able to infect machines and destroy key files while trojans would allow attackers an entry into an infected system without the need for passwords or other means of authentication. Cybersecurity companies would historically attempt to get copies of such malware as early as possible, identify key sections of code, and then add them to a database so that customers of anti-virus software can scan for the virus on their systems. The same companies also provide services to large corporations to improve their protection against cyberattacks, and when attacks are detected, not only mitigate against them in real-time but attempt to get information from the attackers (however, this process is far less exciting as that seen in the film Hackers).

While AI cyberattacks are rare, their recent development and deployment have cybersecurity experts on their toes. An attack launched by an AI not only allows for an attacker to increase the number of simultaneous attacks effectively, but the attacks can adapt and change depending on the situation. The use of AI also allows for cybercriminals to make better use of botnets and large-scale attacks, thus creating an attack that can improve itself the more attacks it performs. One recent example of an AI-assisted attack was when an online freelance market, TaskRabbit, came under siege by attackers and had affected 3.75 million users and data stolen by the attackers include social security numbers and bank account details. The attack utilised an AI that was able to adapt and use a large-scale DDoS attack efficiently, and the resulting attack saw the site closed until security measures could be brought in. 

How can Cybersecurity utilise AI, and how will it affect those in the field?

One of the best ways to fight back against technology is to use technology, and in the case of AI, many cybersecurity experts are turning to AI. As AI and automation are particularly ideal for handling tedious and laborious tasks, such a system can handle malware tracking, file cleaning, port checking, network monitoring, and real-time defences. AI will also become highly important in activity monitoring, whereby unusual activity is quickly detected and stopped. While such AI systems handle these tasks, cybersecurity workers can focus on larger jobs that otherwise cannot be done by AI, thus optimising resources.

However, just like low-skilled workers, high-skilled workers are now facing the pressure and anxiety caused by AI and automation. A recent report by Exabeam shows that younger generations of workers are worried about automation taking over their jobs. The same report shows that these concerns are less of a worry by older generations of workers, but this makes sense considering that they already have established careers and are most likely looking towards retirement. Unlike low-skilled workers, those in the cybersecurity field are particularly gifted in computer science and thus should be able to retrain. However, automation will become integrated into everyday life, and serious thought has to be put into deciding what role it should play, and what should those who can’t code, do.

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By Robin Mitchell

Robin Mitchell is an electronic engineer who has been involved in electronics since the age of 13. After completing a BEng at the University of Warwick, Robin moved into the field of online content creation, developing articles, news pieces, and projects aimed at professionals and makers alike. Currently, Robin runs a small electronics business, MitchElectronics, which produces educational kits and resources.