Navigating the new frontier: Cybersecurity, AI, and deepfake in the financial services industry

Published on October 8, 2023

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In a rapidly evolving digital landscape, financial services organisations find themselves in a continuous duel with cybercriminals. The recent integration of advanced artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, coupled with emerging threats like deepfakes and sophisticated social engineering techniques, has given rise to complex cybersecurity challenges. These challenges, unique to our age of rapid digital transformation, increasingly exploit human vulnerabilities.

With the world becoming more interconnected than ever, it needs to be recognised that the real battle is not against machines, but against humans. Cybercriminals are leveraging AI and deepfakes not just to breach systems, but to exploit human frailties – our trust, our fears, our curiosity – provoking actions that undermine organisational security.

Traditionally, financial services organisations have invested heavily in technical defences. But, as AI evolves, cybercriminals are shifting focus towards the human element of cybersecurity. According to research, over 90% of cyber-attacks involve some form of phishing, where attackers manipulate trusting employees into divulging sensitive information.

What is a Deepfake?

Helping cyber criminals in their mission of exploiting human vulnerabilities are technologies like AI and deepfakes. Deepfakes are realistic images, voice imitations, and videos created by using machine learning algorithms that can convincingly impersonate a trusted individual or entity. The danger of deepfakes in cybersecurity is their ability to deceive, bypass biometric authentication methods, and manipulate behaviour, becoming a gateway to unauthorised access and fraud.

Deepfakes utilise machine learning and AI to create synthetic media that replace the likeness of one person with another in video or audio files. The technology originated in academic circles, where researchers used Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) to improve video quality. However, like many technological advancements, it has since been misappropriated for malicious purposes.

At a basic level, the creation of deepfakes involves feeding an algorithm hundreds or thousands of images, allowing it to understand and reproduce the subject’s features and mannerisms. Given enough data, the results can be disturbingly realistic, enough to convince even the sceptical viewer or listener. This poses an enormous threat in the realm of cybersecurity, where trust and verification form the bedrock of communication and transactions. Imagine receiving a seemingly legitimate video message from a senior executive or even the CEO, requesting immediate action such as checking a link or sending over files with important data. Most employees would act on such a request because it seems to be coming from someone they know, which is why awareness of emerging threats and knowing to double- and triple-check requests is important.

AI: A double-edged sword

AI’s role in all this is paradoxical. While AI is being exploited by malicious actors, it is also an indispensable tool in combating cyber threats. Advanced machine learning algorithms help in predicting and identifying unusual activity, analysing patterns, and deploying automated responses to potential threats.

But we must also recognise that AI isn’t a magic solution to all our cybersecurity woes. A system’s effectiveness is inherently tied to the data it learns from. Bias in data or learning from manipulated information can lead to false positives or overlooked threats. Cybersecurity isn’t a matter of deploying the most advanced AI defence mechanisms and hoping for the best; it requires constant and proactive engagement with the latest security solutions. The best cybersecurity strategy is one that evolves in tandem with the threat landscape—and it is up to humans behind the technologies to ensure that.

Resilience through education

Fostering a culture of cybersecurity awareness is essential to building resilience against current and emerging threats. For organisations in the financial services sector, continuous education, training, and awareness will be critical. Employees need to be kept up to date about new attack vectors and be trained on identifying and reporting them. It’s equally vital to encourage a mindset that views cybersecurity as everyone’s responsibility, not just that of the IT department.

The human challenge

At this pivotal juncture in the fight against cybercrime, it’s vital to acknowledge that the financial industry isn’t merely up against a technical challenge, but a human one. We must accept that this is a battle fought not just in server rooms and on network maps, but in the human mind. Cybersecurity is as much a matter of understanding and predicting human behaviour as it is a technical issue.

As cybersecurity risks escalate, knowledge is the first line of defence. Education and awareness should form the backbone of any robust cybersecurity strategy. As AI and deepfake technologies continue to evolve, the importance of these factors will only grow.

By expanding our knowledge of the potential of emerging technologies, we can begin to turn the tide against cyber threats, transforming challenges into opportunities for growth and innovation.



Table of Contents

Chris Nguyen
Head of Information Security
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