Navigating the Labyrinth of Digital Cyberthreats Using AI-Powered Cryptographic Agility

By Rebecca Krauthamer and Michelle Karlsberg
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[By Rebecca Krauthamer Chief Product Officer and Co-Founder of QuSecure; and Michelle Karlsberg, QuSecure Fellow]

Imagine a labyrinth, continuously twisting and turning, morphing its layout so just when you think you’ve identified a safe path, the landscape shifts. Navigating it would be a Herculean task. Welcome to the new world of cybersecurity – an ever-changing, intricate maze where new threats lurk around every corner. The biggest challenges of this digital labyrinth stem from the rise of intelligent technologies. Online hackers are our modern-day Hydra (Hydra was a many-headed monster in Greek mythology that was slain by Hercules, whose head when cut off was replaced by two others), and cutting-edge cyberattacks are their weapon of choice.

The wave that is cresting today is artificial intelligence, and right behind it is quantum computing. But these new technologies are not all evil. On the one hand, they lead to an age of unprecedented technological capabilities and advancements. On the other hand, they can be used to create brand-new threats, introducing vulnerabilities previously unimagined, leaving our current cybersecurity systems defenseless. As these threats continue to rise, one thing is clear: Our approach to cybersecurity must evolve. It’s time that we equip ourselves with advanced defenses to match these advanced threats. Organizations need to arm themselves with AI and quantum-resilient shields.

Artificial Intelligence and Advanced Threats

There is no limit to the new vulnerabilities that arise from AI and quantum computing. With each innovation and advancement, Pandora’s Box opens wider, unleashing a swarm of cryptographic threats.

One imminent threat is AI-based malware attacks. In a project to understand emerging cybersecurity threats, IBM Research developed DeepLocker in 2018. DeepLocker blends AI and traditional malware – foreseeing a dangerous threat on the horizon. According to IBM, “This AI-powered malware is particularly dangerous because, like nation-state malware, it could infect millions of systems without being detected. But, unlike nation-state malware, it is feasible in the civilian and commercial realms.” DeepLocker showed us the potential for a dangerous combination of AI and malware even back five years ago, highlighting the urgency for new, robust, and agile defenses.

Fast forward to 2023, generative AI has hit the scene and naturally hackers are already using this new technology for attacks. Today, cybercriminals are using ChatGPT and other large language models to make phishing emails and code malware. Checkpoint Research has found that, “Cyber criminals are working their way around ChatGPT’s restrictions and there is an active chatter in the underground forums disclosing how to use OpenAI API to bypass ChatGPT’s barriers and limitations.”

As we speed into the age of artificial intelligence, it’s clear that our current cybersecurity methods will not keep up. It is critical to continuously develop our defenses and remain agile to combat these emerging threats.

The Shield of Cryptographic Agility

In our ever-evolving digital labyrinth, cryptographic agility – cryptoagility for short – is a crucial defense mechanism. It gives us the capability to rapidly modify the use of cryptographic algorithms and keys, a necessary action to stay ahead of future evolving cybersecurity threats.

An example of the need for cryptoagility can be drawn from the 2014 Heartbleed Bug attacks. The bug revealed a crucial weakness, allowing attackers to read the memory of thousands of systems and steal valuable information. The companies that managed to recover quickly were those that demonstrated cryptoagility, swiftly replacing their compromised cryptographic keys and algorithms with new secure ones. This incident serves as a clear example of the importance of cryptoagility in our ongoing battle against dynamic cybersecurity threats.

Although the Heartbleed Bug has been solved, there is always a new threat on the horizon. Today, quantum is that threat that can break through all our defenses. Before all is lost, we must adopt cryptoagility to defend ourselves, available in today’s leading post-quantum cryptography (PQC) solutions. Evidence of the impending threat of quantum computing is already here, especially with techniques such as Store Now, Decrypt Later (SNDL) already in play. SNDL is a method in which encrypted data is stolen and stored until hackers can decrypt it later with a quantum computer. This signifies a looming threat. Data encrypted by today’s standards, but stored for future decryption, will be at risk since quantum computers will eventually break today’s encryption methods. Hence, SNDL is a ticking time bomb and a stark reminder of the urgency to upgrade our encryption methods to be quantum-safe. The PQC approach addresses the need for cryptoagility. With vulnerabilities such as SNDL presenting a clear and present danger, the time is now for a quantum-leap in our cryptography.

As we navigate the challenges of an emerging quantum ecosystem, using agile quantum-resilient PQC solutions is our best approach. Such agility is not just about defending against threats but also about the capability to adapt and evolve in the quantum landscape.

The Future of Cybersecurity: AI-Powered Cryptoagility

As cybersecurity threats evolve and become increasingly advanced, it’s critical to not just keep pace but stay one step ahead. Looking to the future of cybersecurity, it’s clear that the integration of artificial intelligence and cryptoagility will play a pivotal role in our defense. This combination brings a proactive and dynamic approach to combatting the rising threats posed by AI and the emerging threats of quantum computing.

One way to integrate AI and cryptoagility is through threat detection. This is done using machine learning models to identify patterns in threat behavior, thus enabling a faster and more accurate response to cyberattacks. Furthermore, these AI models can predict future attacks by extrapolating patterns from past data, allowing preemptive measures to be taken. Such a system learns from every attack it counters, continually improving its models and becoming more efficient at predicting, detecting, and countering threats. Then cryptographic keys and algorithms can be automatically updated and swapped out the moment a potential threat is predicted or detected.

AI and cryptoagility together are a continuously evolving defense mechanism that learns and grows stronger with each passing moment. The future of cryptoagility will look vastly different from today’s relatively manual processes. AI-powered cryptoagility could become a real-time, proactive and adaptive process, not a reactive one.

As we stand on the verge of the AI and quantum age, it’s clear that the digital labyrinth will only become more complex and unpredictable, with formidable digital threats akin to the many-headed Hydra or the cunning Minotaur of ancient Greek myths. We must use AI and cryptoagility to our advantage, leveraging them in the battle against cyber threats.

Today’s cybersecurity leaders are the vanguards tasked with safeguarding our most invaluable digital asset – data. By wholeheartedly adopting crypto-agile post-quantum cryptography (PQC) to defend against quantum computing cyberthreats, these leaders are not merely defending our data. They’re pioneering a resilient digital future, ushering in a cutting-edge era of cybersecurity capable of countering any threat and adeptly navigating the intricate corridors of the digital security labyrinth.

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