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Navigating the Intersection of Cybersecurity and AI: Key Predictions for 2024

January 22, 2024 - 6 min read

This article also appeared in VentureBeat.

Anticipating the future is a complex endeavor, however, I'm here to offer insights into potential trends that could shape the ever-evolving cybersecurity landscape in 2024. We engage with over 40% of Fortune 500 companies and I personally have conversations with thousands of CXOs each year which provides me a unique view into the possibilities that might impact the security landscape. Let's explore these potential trends and see what the future of cybersecurity might look like. 

1. Generative AI will increase ransomware attacks: 

The utilization of GenAI technologies will expedite the identification of vulnerable targets, enabling cybercriminals to launch ransomware attacks with greater ease and sophistication. 

  • Before, when launching a cyberattack, hackers had to spend time to identify an organization's attack surface and potential vulnerabilities that can be exploited in internet-facing applications and services. However, with the advent of LLMs, the landscape has dramatically shifted. Now, a hacker can simply ask a straightforward question like, "Show me vulnerabilities for all firewalls for [a given organization] in a table format.” And the next command could be, “Build me exploit code for this firewall," and the task at hand becomes significantly easier.
  • GenAI can also help identify vulnerabilities among your supply chain partners and optimal paths that are connected to your network. It's important to recognize that even if you strengthen your own estate, vulnerabilities may still exist through other entry points, potentially making them the easiest targets for attacks.
  • The combination of social engineering exploits and GenAI technology will result in a surge of cyber breaches, characterized by enhanced quality, diversity, and quantity. This will create a feedback loop that facilitates iterative improvements, making these breaches even more sophisticated and challenging to mitigate. 

Defense Strategy: Using the Zscaler Zero Trust Exchange, customers can make their applications invisible to potential attackers, reducing the attack surface. If you can’t be reached, you can’t be breached. 

2. AI will be used to fight AI:

We will be witnessing a promising development where AI is being harnessed by security providers to combat the ever-evolving nature of AI-driven attacks. 

  • Enterprises generate a vast amount of logs containing signals that could indicate potential attacks. However, isolating these signals in a timely manner has been challenging due to signal-to-noise issues. With the advent of GenAI technologies, we now have the capability to identify potential avenues of attack more effectively. By leveraging GenAI, we can enhance triage and protection measures by understanding which vulnerabilities hackers are likely to exploit. Additionally, this technology enables us to detect attackers and exploits in near real-time. As a result, cloud security providers will develop AI-powered tools to proactively prevent potential areas of exploitation.
  • In addition, with the advent of AI and ML tools, we have the capability to predict and identify potential vulnerabilities in an organization that are likely to be exploited. This will help reduce cyber breaches. 

Defense Strategy: Zscaler is building tools such as breach predictors that could predict and prevent breaches powered by communication logs. Before any breach happens there is always reconnaissance activity. Because Zscaler sits in the middle of all communications, we have visibility into potential threats. This allows us to understand if a hacker has infiltrated an enterprise, and if so, suggest steps to prevent a breach.

3. The rise of firewall-free enterprises: 

Organizations are coming to a realization that despite significant investments in firewalls and VPNs, their security posture remains vulnerable. They are understanding that a true Zero Trust architecture has to be implemented. 

  • Realizing the inherent security risks and false sense of security provided by firewall-based approaches, customers will move away from Firewall and VPN as their main security technology. Over the next few years, firewalls will become archaic like mainframes. 
  • Organizations are awakening to the need for a more comprehensive and effective cybersecurity strategy. The coming years will witness the significant acceleration in the adoption and implementation of Zero Trust architecture and the rise of "firewall-free enterprises.” This transformative shift represents a crucial inflection point in the cybersecurity landscape.

Defense Strategy: This shift reflects a changing approach to cybersecurity, driven by the understanding that a firewall-centric approach is ineffective in safeguarding against evolving threats, prompting customers to seek true Zscaler Zero Trust solutions.

4. Broader adoption of Zero Trust segmentation: 

The number one cause of ransomware attacks is a flat network. Once hackers are on the network, they can easily move laterally and find high-value assets and encrypt them and ask for ransom. Organizations have been trying to implement network-based segmentation to eliminate lateral movement. 

  • I have talked to hundreds of CISOs but have yet to meet one who has successfully completed network-based segmentation or microsegmentation. It is too cumbersome to implement and operationalize. 
  • In 2023, hundreds of enterprises successfully implemented the initial phase of Zero Trust architecture. Moving into 2024, we anticipate a broader adoption of Zero Trust-based segmentation. This approach simplifies implementation so you don’t need to create network segments and you use Zero Trust technology to connect a certain group of applications to a certain group of applications.

Defense Strategy: Zscaler offers Zero Trust segmentation in two areas: 

5. Zero Trust SD-WAN will start to replace traditional SD-WAN: 

SD-WAN has helped enterprises save money by using the internet—a cheaper transport. But SD-WANs have not improved security, as they allow lateral threat movement. 

  • Zero Trust SD-WAN doesn’t put users on the network, it simply makes a point-to-point connection between users and applications, hence eliminating lateral threat movement. This protects enterprises from ransomware attacks. Zero Trust SD-WAN will emerge as an important technology to provide highly reliable, highly secure and seamless connectivity. 
  • Zero Trust SD-WAN also reduces the overhead as enterprises no longer have to worry about managing route tables. Zero Trust SD-WAN makes every branch office like an internet cafe or a coffee shop, your employees can access any application without having to extend your network to every branch office.  

Defense Strategy: Zscaler offers a Zero Trust SD-WAN solution that is easy to implement with a Plug-n-Play appliance.

6. SEC regulations will drive far more active participation of Board members and CFOs for cyber risk reduction: 

Recognizing the damage that cyber breaches could cause to businesses, these key stakeholders will more actively engage in cybersecurity initiatives and decision-making processes. 

  • The increased involvement of CFOs and Boards of Directors in cybersecurity underscores the recognition that it is not solely a CIO or CISO’s responsibility, but a vital element of overall organizational resilience and risk management.
  • Newly introduced SEC disclosure requirements will serve as a catalyst for boards to become more engaged in driving cybersecurity initiatives in their companies.
  • More companies will require at least one board member with a strong background in cybersecurity. 

Defense Strategy: Through Zscaler Risk360, we provide a holistic risk score for an organization which highlights the contributing factors to your cyber risk and compares your risk score with your peers with trends over time. In addition, Zscaler has added SEC disclosure reports generated by GenAI, leveraging contributing factors that have been used to compute your company's risk score.

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