AI is at a pivotal beginning, testing boundaries like rewriting songs and creating images, and exploring important questions about its implications. As we harness AI for beneficial purposes, it's inevitable that some will use it for their own malicious ends. The challenge lies in ensuring that we don't repeat the mistakes of the past where security was often an afterthought. Instead, we must continue our aim for "security by design" by embedding safeguards from the start rather than applying the proverbial bandaids post-deployment. For AI to function effectively, it requires access to our data from simple sentences to full videos, but this raises concerns about how easily AI could be manipulated to achieve harmful objectives by simply social engineering the input prompts. Ensuring AI is secure by design will help prevent proprietary data leaks and protect the AI model, similar to the way Next-Generation Firewalls (NGFWs) function today in protecting our most prized networks.  

In a strategic move to enhance the security features and operational effectiveness of their portfolio, Palo Alto Networks CEO Nikesh Arora has led the integration of generative AI across the company's entire cybersecurity product line. 'Precision AI,' a complex fusion of AI, machine learning, and automation processes, was introduced by the company under Arora's direction and is now integrated into all of the main platforms, including Strata, Prisma Access, Prisma Cloud and Cortex. Together with strengthening the current infrastructure, this project establishes a new standard for cybersecurity solutions.  

Apart from improving the capabilities of individual solutions, Arora has overseen the creation of specific tools designed to safeguard the application of generative AI itself. The goals of these tools—AI Access Security, AI-SPM, and AI Runtime Security—are designed to control vulnerabilities in AI models and shield AI applications from new dangers like prompt injections. Palo Alto Networks is dedicated to leading the way in a comprehensive security strategy in the face of changing digital threats, as seen by its dual-purpose strategy of using AI for defense and application security. 

Using AI to defend the enterprise

The cybersecurity market is entering a new phase as AI-based threats emerge and rapidly increase in complexity and effectiveness. Threat actors are increasingly using AI to do deep analysis to find weaknesses in systems with startling accuracy, automate attacks, and improve the effectiveness of phishing campaigns.  

These AI-enabled dangers include highly skilled phishing tactics created by AI, and automated vulnerability scanning that can find and exploit vulnerabilities faster than ever. AI is also being used to perform user behavior analysis allowing attackers to create extremely focused attacks that can get past conventional security protocols. Here's a list of common AI-based threats that are challenging organizations across nearly every industry vertical: 

  • AI-Powered Phishing Attacks: Threat actors use machine learning to craft and send highly convincing phishing emails that are tailored to the recipient's background and habits, making them difficult to distinguish from legitimate communications.
  • Deepfake Technology: This involves using AI to create audio and video clips that mimic real individuals. These clips can be used to manipulate public opinion, commit fraud, or deceive employees into giving away sensitive information.
  • Automated Vulnerability Discovery: AI algorithms can rapidly scan systems and software for vulnerabilities at a much faster rate than human hackers, identifying potential entry points for attacks before they are patched.
  • AI-Driven Behavioral Analysis for Malware: Some malware now uses AI to monitor user behavior on infected systems, allowing it to stay dormant until it can do the most damage or avoid detection by behaving like a legitimate user or process.
  • Adaptive Malware: These are advanced malware strains that use AI to modify their code as they spread, helping them to avoid signature-based detection methods traditionally used by antivirus programs.
  • Smart Botnets: AI can control botnets, allowing them to self-optimize their actions for increased effectiveness in attacks like DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service), where traditional mitigation efforts may fall short.
  • Automated Hacking: AI can automate the process of writing and deploying malware, launching attacks, and even adapting to network defenses in real-time, simulating a persistent and adaptive human hacker.

In order to combat these emerging threats, organizations ought to consider implementing a strategy that utilizes artificial intelligence (AI). Organizations can counter threats at every step of the cyber kill chain, from reconnaissance and weaponization to exploitation and command-and-control. Incorporating AI into this process accelerates the efficiency of operators, analyzing large volumes of data in order to detect patterns and anomalies that indicate possible threats before a security incident occurs—not after. And in an industry where the gap between a perimeter breach and data exfiltration is measured in minutes—this is critical. This enables security teams to become more proactive in their security posture—even proactively preventing attacks before they occur. 

This approach requires a comprehensive integration of AI capabilities across all areas of the cyber kill chain, ensuring a robust defense against the dynamic and evolving nature of cyber threats. This provides a compelling opportunity for Palo Alto to showcase value in its latest innovative technology. 

The Need for Incorporating AI into Secure Application Development 

The second point observed in Arora's approach is to inject Palo Alto Networks' technology in a "shift left" approach to secure the development of applications. The integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) into the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) is becoming an essential strategy for enhancing the security of runtime applications. However, it's important that this is thoughtfully rolled out—AI, while a powerful tool, is not a panacea. It requires careful implementation and human oversight to ensure that it beneifts development process and doesn't adversely create new vulnerabilities or dependencies.  

This is where Palo Alto's thoughtful insertion of their advanced features will be a boon to the software development teams open to input from "across the aisle," coming from the security teams that have traditionally only been engaged at the end of the development cycle—as part of a security controls review. Rather than being seen as a hindrance, the inclusion of these security features earlier on in the build phase should increase security and reduce the likelihood of reengineering code at the eleventh hour before promotion to production. 

As legislative frameworks like the NIST AI Risk Management Framework begin to shape the landscape, it is also vital for development teams to understand and align with these regulations. This need for compliance, combined with monitoring and adjusting the use of AI tools, will ensure that AI not only contributes positively to the SDLC but also adheres to corporate and regulatory requirements.   

Here are three essential steps to consider—and to explore how the technology offered through Palo Alto Networks (perhaps as part of an Enterprise Agreement) can accelerate progress toward a secure enterprise. 

1. Implement Security by Design 

Begin by educating your development team on secure coding practices, ensuring they're aware of common vulnerabilities and how to avoid them. Integrate security tools like static and dynamic application security testing into your development and testing environments to proactively identify and fix security issues. Additionally, incorporate security requirements from the start of each project to ensure that security considerations are as fundamental as functional requirements. 

2. Adopt a Shift-Left Approach 

Introduce security testing early in the development cycle and make it a regular part of the process to catch vulnerabilities sooner, which is more cost-effective than addressing them later. Automate these security tests to maintain consistency and efficiency, and ensure your CI/CD pipeline is secure by implementing strict access controls and continuously scanning all code and third-party libraries for vulnerabilities. 

3. Establish a Security Governance Framework 

Develop a comprehensive set of security policies that dictate coding practices and procedures, updating them regularly to respond to new threats and technologies. Conduct regular security audits and penetration tests to uncover and address potential security weaknesses. Finally, prepare a detailed incident response plan that outlines steps for containment, investigation, remediation, and communication in the event of a security breach. 

By systematically addressing these areas, organizations can significantly enhance the security embedded within their software development lifecycle, reducing vulnerabilities and building a stronger trust foundation with their users and clients.  

Filling the Cybersecurity Skills Gap 

Palo Alto Networks is currently processing nearly 8 petabytes of data every day blocking millions of attacks from this learned data. This extensive data ingestion enhances the training and accuracy of AI models as well as their ability to summarize and clarify complex configurations. 

Leveraging this data, Palo Alto is implementing CoPilots across their firewalls, Cortex, and Prisma Cloud where analysts can interact with the AI assistant to ask for suggestions and clarifications on configurations to improve security postures or retrieve log files.  

From the strategic acquisitions in the past from LightCyber Magnifier for traffic analysis and Zingbox for IoT security, the self-programming firewall, which seemed futuristic at the time, is now on the verge of becoming reality. As the network environment is modeled against the baseline traffic combined with the endpoint profiles of traffic expected from the device, the NGFW may be able to create and modify rules based on recommendations from the fully automated CoPilot.   

This evolution in technology aims to simplify security processes, making products more user-friendly. Such improvements are critical in addressing the ongoing challenges in cybersecurity staffing by reducing the complexity and expertise required to manage security systems effectively and shifts skilled employees to more proactive threat hunting and architecture development. 

To delve deeper into these topics and explore advanced strategies for integrating AI into your security protocols, consider registering for a WWT AI Security "Hour of Cyber" briefing or workshop. These sessions are designed to provide you with expert insights, hands-on experiences, and tailored advice to help you strengthen your organization's cybersecurity posture using the latest AI technologies. Take this opportunity to connect with industry experts, learn from real-world scenarios, and ask specific questions relevant to your organization's needs. Join us to ensure your team is equipped with the knowledge and tools necessary to implement a robust AI-enhanced security strategy.