Rethinking Data Security in the Age of AI

Rethinking Data Security in the Age of AI resized

AI is already transforming the way that we work and do business, with 80% of organizations reporting that they plan to invest in AI in the coming year, according to a new study. Yet, amid this rapid adoption, a significant concern has emerged: data security. That same study found that 45% of organizations experienced unintended data exposures during AI implementation, highlighting that there’s still much work to be done when it comes to securing the data that powers AI.

As AI opens up a new world of possibilities, it also opens up new risks, underscoring the critical importance of data security. In this piece, we’ll look at emerging cybersecurity and data security threats in the age of AI. We’ll also explore the importance of strong information management strategies as AI continues to spread.

Bad Actors Have AI, and Organizations Must Plan Accordingly

While many organizations today are using AI to benefit society, it’s important for business leaders to recognize that bad actors have access to this same technology. These individuals aren’t bound by the same ethical standards that govern behavior for the rest of us, which creates challenge for all organizations, regardless of whether or not they choose to adopt AI.

Those who wish to do harm with AI could easily create technology to crack passwords, automate attacks, and more, yet—concerningly—they often don’t need to create bespoke tools to carry out their attacks. A New YorkTimes report, for example, highlighted the ease with which bad actors are able to use existing, publicly available technologies to generate harmful and false information, and even manipulate popular, legitimate AI models into circumventing their built-in controls. And, of course, hackers are also free to develop their own novel tools to target sensitive data, execute ransomware attacks, and create undetectable malware, among many other frightening possibilities.

“AI is a powerful tool for society – and that includes the hackers that will use it to exploit every weakness and flaw in our global cybersecurity infrastructure. While the rise of generative AI promises a transformation in productivity at work and at home, these tools are also enabling the evolution of the global threat landscape at a pace we never could have imagined...despite being aware of the risks associated with AI implementation, many organizations are rushing into AI without taking adequate measures to mitigate them, leaving themselves vulnerable.”
-Dana Simberkoff, Chief Risk, Privacy and Information Security Officer at AvePoint

The Harvard Business Review, The World Economic Forum, and others have sounded the alarm about the potential dangers of AI in the hands of hackers and those with bad intentions, but it’s critical for business leaders to know that these aren’t far-off, abstract problems. Forbes recently reported, for example, that a group of hackers used an open-source AI model to gain access to the private servers of over 300 companies. The National Institute of Standards and Technology, meanwhile, has actively hypothesized a kind of attack that could enable hackers to hijack private AI models. 

AI threats are real, and they’re getting more advanced, which means vulnerabilities will continue to grow. As this happens, organizations will need to think strategically about how they safeguard their data, embracing proactive measures to manage, prevent, and anticipate threats. This requires not only traditional cybersecurity practices but also a holistic security mindset, fostering innovative approaches to threat detection, prevention, and response.

As AI Proliferates, Strong Information Management is Key

According to Gartner, as many as 41% of organizations have had an AI security breach or privacy incident, and 60% of those organizations reported that data was compromised by an internal party. This highlights another important fact about today’s shifting cybersecurity landscape: in the age of AI, not all threats are from external or malicious sources, which means that strong information management is key.

You can limit your organization’s risk with AI by enhancing how you handle your data. Many companies, for example, have chosen to deploy AI tools like chatbots that are trained on internal data. To ensure that tools like these don’t access sensitive or personally identifiable information, you should have a clear system in place for tagging all content so that a tool like a chatbot won’t be able to ingest or share sensitive data.

Yet the scope of effective information management extends beyond establishing guardrails for tools like chatbots. It important to have a comprehensive view of where information lives within your organization and who holds access privileges. With this knowledge in hand, tailored measures can be deployed to protect your company from internal mishaps while also building greater resiliency toward external threats.

In addition, you make it more likely that your company will get the greatest possible benefit from AI; a recent study found that organizations with a more mature information management strategy are 1.5x more likely to realize the benefits of AI implementation.

Regardless of whether or not your organization plans to implement AI, strong information management is a best practice that pays dividends. When your data is properly managed, your organization is less vulnerable against AI-driven cyberattacks and quicker to respond. You could also get AI-agnostic benefits like increased productivity and decreased storage costs. As AI changes the way that we work, strategic information management is quickly becoming a must-have for organizations big and small.

To Go Further With AI, Plan for the Long-Term

As AI becomes more effective and widely adopted, organizations must think strategically about safeguarding their data and protecting it against cybersecurity threats. While threats from external bad actors are sure to increase in years to come, it’s also important to remember that many AI-related data exposures come from internal sources, highlighting the need for strong information management strategies to guard against internal and external risks.

Even as new threats from external sources continue to emerge, leaders can set their companies up for success now by establishing clear policies and getting control of their data. AI is just getting started, which means that it’s important to plan for the long-term. By getting your house (and its data) in order now, you’re giving yourself greater freedom to maneuver down the road.

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