The benefits of artificial intelligence (AI) are being touted across the internet by tech-enthusiasts and future fiends alike. Proponents of the technology are quick to point out the monumental potential it could have in fields like agriculture, public health, and child safety. While it’s true that AI could very well be the change the world needs to propel itself off of a descending trajectory, it is also true that the implementation of such technology could result in an acceleration of its downfall.

Artificial intelligence opens the door to cyber threats and malware operating at unprecedented levels of maliciousness. These threats are dangerous in any field, but perhaps they are most terrifying to those of us in industries that have just recently begun the transition to digital equipment and computerized processes. The energy industry specifically has a lot to lose if their AI is compromised.

How are AI attacks different from traditional cyber threats?

Malware based on artificial intelligence is extremely intelligent. Unlike traditional cyber threats, this new type of malware is capable of learning from the algorithms being used to drive artificial intelligence. It is also extremely accurate. This particular breed of disruptive technology can target specific individuals or groups merely by waiting until the intelligence identifies the desired victim.

Lastly, AI-based malware has the ability to disguise itself as a legitimate file that belongs to the host system, allowing it to carry out destruction without ever being noticed. This makes it extremely difficult to detect the virus, identify the perpetrator, or prevent threats from reoccurring.

Which aspects of the energy sector are vulnerable to such attacks?

The energy sector is extremely vulnerable to both traditional and AI-based cyber threats at its current juncture thanks to the relatively recent implementation of digital technology to its processes and procedures. Now rigs, pipelines, grids, and more possess some sort of digital technology capable of being hacked. And, because the industry is just beginning to utilize such technology, safeguards and preventative measures are still being developed.

An attack on the energy industry could harm energy infrastructures critical to security. It could initiate a production shutdown, cut power to the masses, or even trigger an explosion capable of causing injury or death to those nearby. With “payouts” like this, it’s no wonder that the energy industry is considered the most-exposed and second most attacked industry when it comes to cyber threats.

Is there anything we can do to minimize risk?

The first step in preventing such malicious attacks is to educate those in the energy sector about the potential risks. Regular training centered on safe technology practices and mitigating risk of exposure is absolutely necessary. Awareness can go a long way in preventing a potential attack.

The second step in securing the energy industry would be to fine-tune the development of a cybersecurity system that utilizes artificial intelligence of its own. What better way to defend an industry from AI-based malware than with AI-based protection. A well-developed program could, in theory, learn the same algorithms employed by the threatening virus and work to predict, detect, and respond to such intrusions.


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