Ex-US cyber command chief: Enemies using AI is ‘existential threat’

“Artificial intelligence is the real thing. It is already in use by attackers. When they learn how to do deepfakes, I would argue this is potentially an existential threat.”

Artificial intelligence (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Artificial intelligence
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Certain cyber-artificial intelligence attacks could pose an existential threat to the US and the West, former US cyber command chief, Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Brett Williams said on Tuesday.
Speaking as part of Cybertech’s virtual conference, Williams said, “artificial intelligence is the real thing. It is already in use by attackers. When they learn how to do deepfakes, I would argue this is potentially an existential threat.”
The deepfake phenomenon refers to an advanced digital capability at which an adversary could post videos and photos mimicking real people with such a level of accuracy making it almost impossible to discover that the item is fake.
Discussing other threats, Williams said that Washington is now constantly “fighting off nation state [cyber] attacks from Russia, China and now Iran as well.”
He said that the US, “needs to be much more deliberate about countering these attacks” and that Americans must unite to overcome differences.
He warned that when Americans lose faith in government and in each other, this creates a “perfect environment for Russia and others to employ information warfare… the ultimate and more dangerous objective is to increase our infighting” so that the US is too distracted to counteract Russia’s negative influence elsewhere.
Dismissing calls for better educating the public against disinformation, he said the US and the West could “significantly cut down the volume and reach, and raise the costs of disinformation so that it becomes discredited and ineffective.”
Former CIA director David Petraeus also spoke at the conference, saying that “digital trust is the foundation of everything we do when we go online.”
He remarked that when the coronavirus hit “almost everyone moved to the cloud if they were not already there,” which has been a “new opportunity for nation state hackers, criminals and extremists.”
He even said that he had “just fended off an Iranian phishing group attack this morning,” as if it was a frequent and expected event.
The big question, said Petraeus, in the coronavirus environment and with a rise in cyber attacks is “can you achieve the kind of digital trust” needed for society and business to continue to function.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance also spoke, stating that a major priority for US law enforcement has been new levels of global cyber cooperation.
Vance gave an example in which his office has worked closely with Jamaica to nab a figure associated with ISIS, which also led to being able to provide counter-terror intelligence to many Western allies.
“When it comes to terrorism and cyber crime, our perimeter extends far beyond the island of Manhattan – to the ends of the earth,” he said.
Yiftah Ron-Tal, the chairman of the Israel Electric Corporation and a retired IDF major-general, addressed the conference predicting that in the near future energy resources will “move from large power stations to the consumer.”
He said that the change would be so dramatic that “80% of energy resources will be decentralized by 2040.” All this would happen through a combination of smart energy technology, making renewable energy more effective and increasing the capacity to store energy.”
He said that as the digital world and the electricity that it relies on has become more critical, “it has become an even greater preferred target for cyber terror.”
In a panel discussion on cyber challenges in the aviation sector during the coronavirus crisis, officials from several countries said that reduced traffic has not reduced the threat from hackers, rather, they said the kinds of attacks have shifted.
Some noted that many airports are using reduced traffic as a time for renovations which leaves more of the airport’s electronic infrastructure vulnerable.
Add to that, workers must wear masks, which provides an easy disguise, and it becomes much more difficult to prevent intruders from accessing sensitive areas. Also, many services that used to be handled by people are now being controlled electronically and this has greatly increased airports’ vulnerability.
Some of the aviation cyber experts also said it had been harder for them to work as efficiently because cyber defense groups were working remotely from each other.