How Can Enterprises, ML Developers, and Data Scientists Safely Implement AI to Fight Email Phishing?
These techniques identify phishing emails in real time, allowing organizations to protect themselves from cyber-attacks.
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AI is the fastest-moving technology with a solution for every security concern for an enterprise. From building a privacy layer for data management systems to using natural language processing for detecting fraud in inbound messages such as emails, there's an abundance of whitespace to create. However, while communicating with several business leaders, I have found that most ignore the severity of what may seem like a minor problem: phishing scams through emails.
Since emails are the primary mode of corporate communications, millions of employees worldwide risk attracting spam and exposing sensitive information. In fact, as per Proofpoint's findings, 83% of organizations were under email phishing attacks in 2022.
Phishing detection in company emails is a complex challenge, particularly when preserving the privacy and confidentiality of sensitive information. Emails often contain high-stakes data, such as financial earnings, merger details, employee salaries, and private HR matters. Therefore, balancing effective phishing detection and ensuring data protection is essential.
Traditional phishing detection methods often involve analyzing the content of emails to identify patterns, keywords, or suspicious links that indicate phishing attempts. However, this approach requires the AI to access and process confidential information, which poses a significant risk to data privacy. As a result, enterprises are keen on exploring AI possibilities in combating this silent threat. But the threat mustn't be further jeopardized by the leakage of confidential enterprise information.
How AI Prevents Phishing?
The implementation of AI involves analyzing various components of an email, including metadata, message content, and the context of the message, to identify warning signals and anomalies that may indicate a phishing attempt. Moreover, ML-based email protection systems constantly learn and adapt to each client's needs through continuous data analysis and user feedback, ensuring the AI continually evolves.
AI detects email phishing by analyzing various aspects of the email, such as the sender's address, links and attachments, and the language used in the email.
- Sender verification: AI algorithms can check if the sender's address is a known entity or has been flagged as suspicious.
- Link and attachment analysis: AI can scan links and attachments for malware or signs of phishing attempts.
- Natural language processing: AI can analyze the language used in the email, looking for signs of manipulation or deception.
Identifying Anomalies and Warning Signals
AI and ML-powered systems effectively detect phishing attempts in emails by analyzing various features, including metadata and message content, for anomalies and warning signals. These alerts are based on email behavior, like forged senders, and message intent, such as a sense of urgency.
The presence of urgency is a major red flag for phishing scams. The AI system analyzes the context of the message to determine if it's spam, a phishing attempt, or a legitimate message.
The word "promotion" alone can be suspect, but AI systems dig deeper to assess the email's threat level accurately. This helps differentiate between phrases like "Urgent: 50% OFF promotion" (simple spam) and "Enter your card number immediately to claim the promotion" (a phishing scam). The AI system determines the threat's severity by analyzing the email's context and intent."
AI also detects warning signs in the email header, such as email spoofing, misspelled domains, and other forms of fraud. The AI system significantly improves threat detection capabilities when combined with traditional systems like SPF, DKIM, and DMARC.
Using NLP to Analyze the Context
AI's ability to analyze messages in context makes it a powerful defense against phishing. Instead of comparing an email to known phishing scams, AI evaluates the message for potential threats. It considers various factors, such as prior conversations, the type of information requested in the email, the relationship between the subject and the message content, and others, to assess the email's potential threat.
Moreover, ML-based email protection is constantly evolving through learning from data and user/administrator feedback, resulting in increasingly accurate analysis. This allows AI to adapt continually to each client's style and requirements.
However, utilizing NLP for current tasks can expose sensitive information in the data, such as email content. While researching, I studied Protopia AI's work in advanced NLP for detecting email phishing. They offer the only privacy layer that accesses visual, text, or tabular data and can be applied throughout the ML lifecycle - training or inferencing.
Their stained glass transform technology takes your data from any source, learns what AI models need, removes what it doesn't, and transforms the incoming data with minimal loss in AI model performance.
Stained Glass Transform generates a Randomized Re-Representation of data that is only understandable by ML tasks. Raw data in emails that contain confidential enterprise information does not need to be exposed to train and deploy the phishing detection AI model when using Stained Glass Transform.
As such, plain text data that contains confidential enterprise information does not need to be exposed to train the phishing detection AI task.
The tactics used in phishing attacks are constantly changing as threat actors work to bypass current security measures. To stay protected, the technology used for cybersecurity must also continuously improve and adapt.
AI constantly evolves by learning from an oorganization'sunique characteristics and other open-source threat intelligence sources. This ongoing improvement process enables AI to avoid phishing threats more effectively by detecting the latest ones.
How Serious Is Email Phishing?
Email Phishing is fast emerging as a severe security threat. These attacks, mostly categorized into Business Email Compromise (BEC) and Email Account Compromise (EAC), are notorious schemes that attempt hacking. These are primarily scams involving fraudsters compromising legitimate business email accounts through tactics such as social engineering or hacking. These individuals then use the hacked accounts to perform unauthorized transfers of funds.
In 2022, the total loss due to BEC/EAC amounted to USD 12.5 billion. Therefore, business leaders, especially CIOs, must promote email phishing as a serious threat and create strategies around AI. This also calls for using advanced products that can combat large-scale attacks.
As AI becomes more prevalent in the enterprise, it has the potential to enhance security and privacy and expose new risks. One area where AI has shown promise in improving safety is in the fight against phishing attacks. AI-powered anti-phishing tools can analyze vast amounts of data to detect and prevent phishing emails before they reach employees. However, implementing AI-powered anti-phishing tools can expose enterprises to new risks in an attempt to protect themselves.
One potential risk of implementing AI-powered anti-phishing tools is the possibility of false positives, where legitimate emails are incorrectly flagged as phishing attempts. This can lead to blocking essential communication and cause delays in business processes.
Additionally, AI algorithms are only as good as the data they are trained on. Hence, enterprises must ensure their training data is diverse and up-to-date to avoid AI bias and improve accuracy.
Another potential risk is collecting and storing sensitive data with AI-powered anti-phishing tools. As discussed, enterprises deal with confidential information regarding their accounts, employees, and upcoming plans that can be highly sensitive. Enterprises need to ensure that the data collected by these tools are stored securely and comply with data privacy regulations.
Additionally, enterprises must ensure that only authorized personnel can access this data to prevent data breaches.
By taking steps to mitigate risks such as false positives and ensuring that data is stored securely and in compliance with regulations, enterprises can successfully implement AI-powered anti-phishing tools while safeguarding their security and privacy.
Optimal Implementation Is the Key!
These techniques identify phishing emails in real-time, allowing organizations to protect themselves from cyber-attacks. However, it's important to note that AI is not a panacea, and phishing remains a significant threat to organizations. Therefore, it's recommended to implement multiple layers of security, including employee education and training, to reduce the risk of successful phishing attacks.
Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.
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