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A.I. cyber wars heat up

Technological advances in artificial intelligence are fuelling a new race between hackers and those toiling to protect cybersecurity networks.

Cybersecurity is always a race between offence and defence but new tools are giving companies that employ them a leg up on those trying to steal their data.

Whereas past responses to cybercrimes often looked for known hacking methods long after they occurred, AI techniques using machine learning scan huge volumes of data to detect patterns of abnormal behaviour that are imperceptible to humans.

Experts expect machines will become so sophisticated that they'll develop answers to questions that humans won't clearly understand.

David Decary-Hetu, assistant professor of criminology at the University of Montreal, says defenders have an edge right now in using artificial intelligence.

"But who knows what's going to happen in a few years from now," he said in an interview.

The Bank of Canada warned in its semi-annual review released this month that the high degree of interconnectedness among Canadian financial institutions means any successful cyberattack could spread widely throughout the financial system.

Reports suggest cybercrime costs the Canadian economy between $3 billion and $5 billion a year, including ransom paid to foreign criminals.

Hacks of Sony Pictures, Uber, Ashley Madison, Yahoo and multinational retailers have sparked unsettling headlines about security of personal information.

One of the latest to face scrutiny is global credit-reporting firm Equifax. Hackers accessed the personal information, including names, social insurance and credit card numbers, as well as usernames, passwords and secret question/secret answer data of 19,000 Canadians and 145.5 million Americans.

Current detection systems tend to only recognize improper activity based on past events, often long after the damage is done.

The challenge is growing as the number of connected devices in the world continues to soar.

Ontario-based utilities company Energy+ Inc. said installed Darktrace technology alerted it to a user going to a malware site in Russia and uploading undisclosed sensitive data to a third-party cloud provider that its existing security was unable to catch.

Receptiviti CEO Jonathan Kreindler says the hype around artificial intelligence has accelerated and has almost become a branding exercise for some companies that aren't even offering truly leading edge technology.

His firm uses AI to scour writings for unconscious use of language to understand the psychological state of company insiders who are responsible for 80 per cent of cybersecurity issues.

Canada's largest IT company, CGI Group, said artificial intelligence is a growing field of interest for customers, although the average client is in the fairly early stages of considering AI adoption in cybersecurity.



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