The year 2021 has not been an easy one for cybersecurity professionals. Nor has it been comfortable for their employers — businesses that rely on them and the tools they use to keep their networks free from compromise and their most sensitive secrets out of the wrong hands.

The winter and spring months saw a succession of serious, costly ransomware attacks on large U.S. businesses. Some of the victims, like Colonial Pipeline and JBS (a key link in the global food supply chain), qualified as “critical infrastructure.” Yet they fell prey, forced to pay multimillion-dollar ransoms to recover control of their business systems.

As is also the case in human medicine, prevention is the best defense against such digital threats like these. And it’s not just too-big-to-fail businesses that need to worry about what’s out there. For every Colonial Pipeline or JBS hack, dozens or hundreds of smaller-scale attacks occur without making international headlines. Most are successful on their own terms. In other words, the attackers get away with the information or ransom money (or both) they were after.

What can your business do to protect itself? Now, more than ever, it pays to recruit AI-enhanced cybersecurity tools in the fight against cyber threats.

AI security is still fairly new in comparison to older, manual cybersecurity processes that have proven effective. However, it’s clear that AI will be a critical piece of the puzzle in the years ahead. Let’s review seven ways AI can help your business improve its security posture this year.

  1. By Strengthening and Securing Your Business WiFi

Your business WiFi needs an upgrade anyway. Small business solutions Plume WorkPass offer cutting-edge, AI-powered security capable of detecting threats before they cause harm to your networks — in addition to a whole array of other capabilities, like workforce management tools, detailed guest analytics, and even on-premise motion awareness data.

These capabilities are indispensable for businesses with multiple customer-facing locations or employee endpoints. In a world where all-remote or hybrid work is the new norm, and where “third places” like cafes are more important than ever, enterprise-level WiFi with AI security is no longer just a nice-to-have option.

  1. By Automating Repetitive Network Security Tasks

It’s no secret that AI is remarkably adept at managing repetitive, low-value tasks previously performed by humans. Enterprise AI can handle extremely high volumes of rote work, leaving human employees free to concentrate on strategic tasks.

This is increasingly true in the cybersecurity realm as well. AI security tools can sort through potential security vulnerabilities and identify those that actually pose a significant threat to your business much faster and with more accuracy than humans. AI can also scan the dark web for signs that your enterprise has already been compromised, such as internal security credentials or financial account information for sale.

  1. By Learning to Spot Potential Intrusions (And Alerting System Owners Before It’s Too Late)

AI security tools are good (and getting better) at learning the signs of network intrusion and interpreting them before attacks progress. They do this by watching and analyzing metrics that evolve too quickly for humans to track accurately.

When they spot anomalous access attempts that aren’t likely to be associated with authorized network users, these AI tools flag that activity for system owners. By alerting system owners of attacks in progress (or attempted attacks that haven’t yet gained traction), AI reduces the cost and disruption associated with network breaches and data theft.

  1. By Detecting New Malware Variants

Another emerging use case for AI security tools is virus variant detection (and detection of other malware variants too). We’ve all heard too much about real virus variants this year, but malware evolves even faster than its biological counterparts. AI can help network administrators detect and deter subtly different malware variants that might otherwise sneak through their defenses and wreak havoc on the inside.

  1. By Detecting Anomalous Network Activity to Uncover Intrusions in Progress

Not all network intrusions are detected in time, unfortunately. If your enterprise is targeted by sophisticated hackers working for rogue nation-states or international criminal networks, chances are high that they will find and exploit a vulnerability regardless of your attempts to prevent it.

All is not lost, however. Once on the inside, even the most sophisticated attackers leave traces of their presence. AI security is much better at discerning those traces at scale than even the most experienced humans.

  1. By Analyzing Code for Potential Vulnerabilities or Compromise

This is a relatively new but very promising application for AI security tools. As is the case for other applications we’ve explored here, AI is much better at combing through massive databases for signs of malicious code. AI can also trawl non-malicious code for potential or known vulnerabilities that attackers can exploit.

  1. By Detecting Sophisticated Attempts at Credential Theft

AI security tools can detect sophisticated attempts to fool authorized users into divulging sensitive information, including login credentials.

Basic variations on these tactics (phishing and spearphishing, among others) have been around since the early days of the Internet, and defenses against them are well-established. For example, your email suite probably has an effective spam filter that weeds out most common phishing attempts.

But AI offers a much deeper layer of protection against credential theft attempts designed to thwart these “off the shelf” defenses. In the future, enterprises without AI-enabled protection will find themselves at serious risk of compromise.

Get the Machines on Your Side

Media and popular culture tend to frame developments in artificial intelligence and automation in negative or at least unflattering terms. This is understandable when many if not most of us understand AI as a potential threat to our jobs, livelihoods, and sense of purpose.

However, it’s shortsighted. Artificial intelligence is already revolutionizing the way we work, and its power is only just coming into focus. As machine learning algorithms improve and humans get better at harnessing their insights, a whole new world of possibilities awaits.

AI’s potential to strengthen your company’s digital security posture is already clear. It’s time to harness it for good — to get the machines on your side and stay one step ahead of the bad guys.

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