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UK cyber attack: GCHQ warns of AI ransomware threat

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The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has issued a warning that the use of artificial intelligence (AI) is expected to heighten the global ransomware threat over the next couple of years.

In a report named The near-term impact of AI on the cyber threat assessment, both organizations and individuals are advised to acknowledge this situation and take proactive steps to safeguard themselves.

NCSC, a part of GCHQ (similar to America’s NSA), the United Kingdom’s intelligence, security, and cybersecurity agency, states that AI is highly likely to directly contribute to the escalation in the frequency and severity of cyber attacks going forward.

According to the study, cybercriminals and hackers operating at a lower skill level can leverage AI advancements to enhance their operations, such as better targeting of victims. This raises the ransomware threat, which poses a significant risk to businesses and organizations in the UK.

Importantly, AI is expected to simplify the identification of vulnerable devices, providing an advantage to threat actors.

James Babbage, the Director General for Threats at the UK’s National Crime Agency, emphasized the ransomware threat as a national security issue, which will worsen due to AI advancements:

“AI technologies reduce barriers to entry, leading to an increase in the number of cybercriminals, and will amplify their capabilities by enhancing the scale, speed, and effectiveness of existing attack techniques. Frauds and child sexual abuses are also likely to be impacted significantly.”

UK cyber threat response

To counter this threat, the British government has allocated £2.6 billion as part of its Cyber Security Strategy to boost its resilience against hostile activities. NCSC and the private sector are already leveraging AI to enhance cyber security defenses, focusing on improved threat detection and security-by-design approaches.

Lindy Cameron, CEO of NCSC, discussed the risk and benefits introduced by AI:

“The growing use of AI in cyber attacks represents an evolution rather than a revolution, enhancing existing threats like ransomware without fundamentally altering the risk landscape in the immediate future. As NCSC takes measures to ensure AI systems are inherently secure, we encourage organizations and individuals to adhere to our guidance on ransomware and cyber security best practices to fortify their defenses and enhance their resilience against cyber attacks.”

Image: Dall-E

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