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The risk and reward of ChatGPT in cybersecurity

Even as cybersecurity professionals explore ways of using ChatGPT to their advantage, cybercriminals are too.

ChatGPT appeared in November and immediately generated a buzz as it wrote texts including poems
ChatGPT appeared in November and immediately generated a buzz as it wrote texts including poems - Copyright AFP/File Lionel BONAVENTURE
ChatGPT appeared in November and immediately generated a buzz as it wrote texts including poems - Copyright AFP/File Lionel BONAVENTURE

There is considerable hype and fear there’s been around ChatGPT, the artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot developed by OpenAI. This extends to articles about academics and teachers worrying that the platform will make cheating easier than ever. On the other side of the coin, you might have seen there are articles evangelising all of ChatGPT’s potential applications.

Alternatively, there are some more esoteric examples of people using the tool. One user, for example, got it to write an instruction guide for removing peanut butter sandwiches from a VCR in the style of the King James Bible. Another asked it to write a song in the style of Nick Cave; although the singer was less than enthused about the results.

According to JP Perez-Etchegoyen, CTO of Onapsis, amidst all that hype and discussion, there has not been nearly enough attention paid to the risks and rewards that AI tools like ChatGPT present in the cybersecurity arena, as he explains to Digital Journal.

Understanding ChatGPT

Perez-Etchegoyen says that: “In order to get a clearer idea of what those risks and rewards look like, it’s important to get a better understanding of what ChatGPT is and what it’s capable of.”

Perez-Etchegoyen’sclear explanation is: “ChatGPT (now in its latest version, ChatGPT-4, released on March 14th, 2023) is part of a larger family of AI tools developed by the US-based company OpenAI. While it’s officially called a chatbot, that doesn’t quite cover its versatility. Trained using both supervised and reinforcement learning techniques, it can do far more than most chatbots.”

Furthermore: “As part of its responses, it can generate content based on all the information it was trained on. That information includes general knowledge as well as programming languages and code. As a result, it can, for instance, simulate an entire chat room; play games like tic-tac-toe; and simulate an ATM.”

More importantly, for businesses and other large organisations, Perez-Etchegoyen states: “It can help improve businesses’ customer service through more personalised, accurate messaging. It can even write and debug computer programs. Some of those, and other, features mean that it could both be a cybersecurity ally and a threat.”

Education, filtering, and bolstering defences

Looking at a key sector – learning – Perez-Etchegoyen reveals: “On the positive front, there’s a lot to be said for ChatGPT. One of the most valuable roles it could play is also one of the most simple: spotting phishing. Organisations could entrench a habit in their employees whereby they use ChatGPT to determine if any content they’re not sure about is phishing or if it was generated with malicious intent.”

Outlining the importance, Perez-Etchegoyen states: “For all the technological advances made in recent years, social engineering attacks like phishing remain one of the most effective forms of cybercrime. In fact, research shows that, of the cyberattacks successfully identified in the UK in 2022, 83 percent involved some form of phishing.”

In addition: “There are numerous other ways that ChatGPT can be used to bolster cybersecurity efforts. It could, for example, provide a degree of assistance to more junior security workers, whether that’s in communicating any issues they might have or helping them better understand the context of what they’re meant to be working on at any given point. It could also help under-resourced teams curate the latest threats and in identifying internal vulnerabilities.”

The bad guys are using it too

There is a dark side to this AI advancement. Perez-Etchegoyen observes: “Even as cybersecurity professionals explore ways of using ChatGPT to their advantage, cybercriminals are too. They might, for example, make use of its ability to generate malicious code. Alternatively, they might use it to generate content that appears to be human-generated, potentially used to trick users into clicking on malicious links, unknowingly leading to dangerous consequences.”

The unsavoury practices continue in other areas. Here Perez-Etchegoyen adds: “Some are even using ChatGPT to convincingly mimic legitimate AI assistants on corporate websites, opening up a new avenue in the social engineering battlefront. Remember, the success of cybercriminals largely depends on being able to target as many possible vulnerabilities, as frequently and quickly as possible. AI tools like ChatGPT allow them to do that by essentially acting as a supercharged assistant that can help create all assets needed for malicious campaigns.”

Use the tools available

This translates into business advice, which Perez-Etchegoyen draws into a recommendation: “It should be clear then that, if cybercriminals are using ChatGPT and other AI tools to enhance their attacks, your security team should also be using them to bolster your cybersecurity efforts. Fortunately, you don’t have to do it alone.”

Perez-Etchegoyen further advises: “The right security provider won’t just engage in constant research around how cybercriminals are using the latest technologies to enhance their attacks but also how those technologies can be used to improve threat detection, prevention, and defence. And with the damage that a cybersecurity attack can do to your critical infrastructure, it’s something they should be proactively telling you about too.”

In a follow-up article, Perez-Etchegoyen provides his analysis of ChatGPT-4.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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