Overview: Is AI a danger to your website? Learn how to protect your website from hackers!
Artificial intelligence is a hot topic, and it’s clear that the conversations and debates surrounding it will continue for the foreseeable future, with no end in sight.
Unfortunately, history shows us that every time there’s a major new development in technology, people with bad intentions will quickly look for ways to exploit it to take advantage of other people. It happened with telephones, it happened with the internet… and now it’s happening with AI.
You may be wondering what this means for you as an individual who spends time online, and even more so as a business owner with a business that constantly uses email, websites, online retail and financial accounts and so on. In this blog post, we’re taking a look at the modern state of hacking.
How Can Hackers Use AI?
The short version: AI is allowing hackers to do their dirty work a lot faster and more efficiently.
Much of the effectiveness of AI depends on how it’s programmed by the humans who use it. For example, when ChatGPT “writes” emails, essays, stories, and more, it’s not generating them spontaneously. It’s building them out of bits and pieces of content that its creators and users have “fed” to it. The more input it’s given, the more it can generate.
There’s potential for the same thing to happen with AI and hackers. Humans with nefarious intentions can feed artificial intelligence systems information about electronic security systems… and as a result, those AI systems will develop a knack for hacking.
And here’s where it gets scarier: A human hacker can do a lot of damage in any given day, but they’re limited by time constraints — and of course, their need for sleep, bathroom breaks, Mountain Dew runs, and so on. It takes a while for a person to hack into a business website using only a keyboard, a mouse, and some cybersecurity knowledge (and a large dose of bad intentions.)
But just as a machine can solve math problems faster than a human, artificial intelligence can target a lot more people and businesses a lot faster than a human hacker could ever dream of.
Unfortunately, AI can be used to quickly generate phishing emails and quickly distribute malware. It can even be taught to write code, thus making it easier than ever to create malware. Hackers have also been known to program AI to successfully impersonate an important user of an organization’s network and access sensitive information, or gain control of accounting software.
Now there are even ChatGPT-style language models that are designed specifically for hacking purposes! At least one of these has been described as being like ChatGPT, but without the ethical guardrails. The word “terrifying” comes to mind.
>> Related Reading: Large Language Models and Cybersecurity
The Hacker’s Bag of Tricks
In their quest to wreak havoc, hackers have long relied on a handful of methods, and variations on those methods. With the acceleration of AI technology, they’ve figured out new twists on their old tricks.
Phishing is a type of attack that uses emails, phone calls, text messages, or websites to deceive people into revealing sensitive information. The attackers typically create fake websites, emails, or text messages that appear to be from a legitimate source.
It could be an email that purports to be from a credit card company, requesting that the recipient update their personal account information. Or it could be a text message intended to look like a message from Amazon, prompting the recipient to provide new payment details for an order.
Hackers can now use AI to generate and send these messages, or to create these fake websites. Once the victim clicks on the link or downloads the attachment, their computer may become infected with malware, or they may be directed to a fake website where they are prompted to enter their personal information. Once the attacker has obtained this information, they can use it to commit identity theft, steal money, or access sensitive data.
>> Related Reading: AI Is Helping Hackers Make Better Phishing Emails
Hackers are also using AI to speed up the spread of malware using shared files & attachments. For years now, hackers have been sending their unsuspecting victims attachments, or sharing cloud-based documents via platforms like Google Drive, Dropbox, or OneDrive, accompanied by messages asking the recipient to open or download the file. The document might contain malware or send the recipient to a fake website.
And then there are passwords. AI technology allows hackers to steal passwords faster than ever. Once a hacker has access to one of your passwords, they can often do a lot of damage before you’ve even noticed. Speaking of which…
Hacking Horror Stories
In a 2022 Reddit thread called “Have you been hacked? Tell your story,” one user shared an incident where a hacker got access to their Verizon phone account… which gave them the ability to reset their Gmail password… which then allowed them to gain access to various online retail accounts, as well as (yikes!) credit card and bank accounts. The Redditor proceeded to describe some “morals of the story,” including “Don’t use the same password across multiple accounts.”
Another user recounted an incident where they downloaded an app without scrutinizing the source… and a few minutes later, all the files on their cloud-based OneDrive had been encrypted with ransomware.
How Can Businesses Avoid Getting Hacked?
Okay, that’s a lot. So is there any hope for individuals and business owners? Or should we all just resign ourselves to the possibility that we will be hacked someday? Or should we all abandon the internet completely and spend our days hiding under a blanket?
Our answer: Don’t be afraid of the internet! A few smart strategies can go a long way toward keeping you and your business safe.
Don’t Click That Link: The most basic step you can take to avoid getting attacked by hackers using AI is to exercise caution when using electronic communications. If you get one of those emails that says your Amazon order didn’t go through and you should click a link to fix it, don’t click that link! (Especially if you didn’t actually order anything!) Instead, go directly to the retailer website and check your account.
And if you get a text message claiming to be from your credit card company or your bank, urging you to take action immediately or lose access to your account, do not click the link or reply! Once again, you can contact the institution directly to verify whether there’s actually something going on.
Be Cautious Around Chatbots: If you take a wrong turn in your online travels and you find yourself on an unfamiliar website and a chatbot starts talking to you, remember: You don’t have to talk back! Chatbots on legitimate websites are fine and can be really helpful, but whatever you do, don’t provide any personal information to a chatbot unless you’re certain of its legitimacy.
Implement Two-Factor Authentication: Two-factor authentication is a security feature that requires users to provide two forms of authentication in order to access their accounts. Requiring users to use it for logging in can help to prevent attackers from accessing user accounts even if they have obtained the user’s password through a phishing attack.
Use Anti-Phishing Software: There are many anti-phishing software solutions available that can help to protect your website from phishing attacks. These solutions typically use machine learning algorithms to detect and block phishing attempts before they can reach your users. If you use one of these, make sure you keep it updated.
Spread the Word: As a business owner, you can also be proactive about protecting your business by helping your employees avoid hackers’ tricks. Encourage them to exercise caution as well, both in their work lives and their personal lives.
Stay Vigilant and Protect Your Business Website
Unfortunately, if a hacker armed with AI attacks your business website, chances are they’re not going to announce themselves. Their goal will be to do as much damage as possible without you ever becoming aware of it.
For that reason, one of the most crucial steps you can take is to monitor the back end of your website constantly. Ideally, you should check once a day to see if there are any anomalies or suspicious activity.
An additional step you can take with a WordPress website is to ensure that all of your plugins (and themes) are up to date. Hackers often search for security flaws in outdated plugins that might allow them to gain unauthorized access to WordPress websites. If you’re using a plugin or a theme that hasn’t been updated in a long time, it might be best to uninstall it and look for a similar one that serves a similar function and is more frequently updated.
We know. That sounds like a lot to think about when you already have a lot on your plate. If you’d rather hand off this technical stuff to somebody else, we recommend… ourselves! At MyUnlimitedWP, our website support packages come with regular updates and security checks.
AI is developing at an unbelievable rate, and one consequence of that fact is that hackers now have a high-tech toolbox full of new methods to do their dirty work. Fortunately, there are several ways a business owner can stay proactive and protect their personal and business accounts from hackers.
Our website wizards at MyUnlimitedWP stay up to date on the latest hacking trends… and our support service options include regular security updates! If you’d like a security guard for your website, get in touch with us!