AI Stands at the Front Line of the Cyber War

The Australian | 29 May 2019

Cyber warfare is tougher to combat, or even detect; so engineers are turning to artificial intelligence and adversarial machine learning to identify and contain intruders.

By Wilson da Silva

THERE’S A WAR on in cyberspace. Every day, thousands of attacks are mounted against computers and networks across the world, with hackers searching for vulnerabilities, trying to access restricted systems, steal data or corrupt networks.

And it’s not just banks or credit card companies: government and defence systems are also a target. In January 2019, the U.S. Democratic National Committee reported it was targeted by Russian hackers in the weeks after the 2018 midterm elections in an unsuccessful spear-phishing attack.

In February, a hack of the Australian parliament’s computer network quickly spread to those of the nation’s major political parties — the Liberals, Labor and the Nationals. Luckily, hackers were detected early, and the Australian Signals Directorate — the agency responsible for foreign signals intelligence–were called in. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison later told parliament that “a sophisticated state actor is responsible for this malicious activity” — diplomatic code for a foreign power. Experts pointed to China.

It’s estimated 25 nations can launch offensive cyber operations, and there were more than 50 state-sponsored attacks in 2018, according to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. Just this year, Chinese hackers tried to steal research on military maritime technology from 27 universities, U.S. and European think tank networks were breached, and Indonesia accused Chinese and Russian hackers of modifying voter databases to disrupt presidential elections.

“Ten years ago, this was almost science fiction,” said Dr Gareth Parker, a research leader at the cyber and electronic warfare division of the Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG) in Adelaide, Australia’s defence research agency. “A decade ago, people were still thinking in terms of antivirus protection.”

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