Researchers and officials say AI will usher in the next phase of cyber warfare, enabling new ways to carry out classic cyberattacks and build out new hacking tools.
Low-grade “AI versus AI” conflict in which artificial intelligence systems will be used by adversaries to carry out cyberattacks against the U.S. is likely to prevail in the near future, Jude Sunderbruch, the Defense Department’s Cyber Crime Center — or DC3 — director said Thursday.
He spoke at DefenseScoop’s Google Defense Forum alongside Col. Richard Leach, the Defense Information Systems Agency’s intelligence director.
“I think we’re really just at the start,” Sunderbruch said, later adding that the U.S. and its allies will have to get creative and learn how to best use currently-existing AI systems to gain a leg up on competing intelligence giants like China.
AI and machine learning technologies have been frequently hailed as the next phase of cybersecurity, with researchers and officials saying they will heighten capabilities of both novice and nation-state hackers, as well as enable new ways to carry out social engineering attacks and enhance hacking tools.
In the near term, AI systems can be used for threat and vulnerability analysis, as well as system testing, said Sunderbruch.
Defense’s updated cybersecurity strategy released in September says the agency will study how to apply automated and AI-driven capabilities to U.S. cyberspace. The Pentagon blueprint notably takes a more offensive approach for U.S. cyber operations, singling out China and Russia as top cyberspace adversaries and vowing to go after cybercriminals or other groups that threaten U.S. interests.
The release follows the department’s transmission of an unclassified fact sheet to Congress about the strategy in May. The agency at the time said it was heavily influenced by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 because the war “demonstrated how cyber capabilities may be used in large-scale conventional conflict.”
DC3 serves as one of several federal cybersecurity analysis centers.The Pentagon says it holds advanced forensics capabilities used to collaborate with other intelligence community players and share information about cyberthreats. Sunderbruch has previously said DC3, in some cases, can retrieve data from hardware that has been damaged or destroyed.
Editor's note: This article has been updated with the year of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.