AI and machine learning are quickly becoming integral parts of modern society. They’ve become common personal and household objects in this era of the Internet of Things.
No longer are they relegated to the inner workings of gigantic global corporations or military entities. AI is taking center stage in our very lives and there’s little we can do about it.
Tech giants like Google and Amazon have made it very easy for anyone to get their hands on AI-based technology in the form of AI assistants and a plethora of MLaaS (machine-learning-as-a-service) offerings. These AI-powered devices can do anything like telling you the weather, finding you a recipe for your favorite pasta dish, and even letting you know your friend Brad is at the door- and opening that door for you. What’s more, democratized AI tools make it easy for anyone (even without coding experience) to try their hands on building machine learning based apps.
Needless to say, a future filled with AI is a future filled with convenience. If Disney’s film “Wall-e” was any hint, we could spend our whole lives a chair while letting self-learning machines do everything we need to do for us (even raising our kids).
However, the AI of today could paint an entirely different picture of the future for our privacy.
The price of convenience
Today’s AI is hungry for your personal information. Of course, this isn’t really surprising seeing as they were birthed by companies like Google that makes most of its yearly income from ad revenue.
In one article written by Gizmodo, a privacy flaw was found in Google’s then newest AI creation. The AI assistant would be built into every Google Pixel phone and would run on their messenger app “Allo”. Users could simply ask the assistant questions like “what’s the weather like tomorrow” or “how do I get to Brad’s house”.
Therein lies the problem. In order for an AI assistant to adjust according to your own personal preferences, it has to first learn and remember all of your personal information. Every intimate detail that makes you, you. It does this by raking in all the information stored in your device (like your contacts list, photos, messages, location).
This poses a huge privacy issue since it means you’re sharing all your personal information with Google (or whichever company manufactures your AI-driven assistant). In the end, no one will know you better than yourself- except Google.
Another problem with this AI is that it can only work if your message is unencrypted. You can either opt for more privacy by choosing to use the built-in end-to-end encrypted mode or opt for more convenience by turning off encrypted mode and letting the AI read/listen to your conversations. There is no middle ground yet.
Why is this such a big problem?
- Companies, like Google, use or sell your private information to third parties to make their money; and
VPNs vs AI
How AI learns from your personal information is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a deeper privacy threat looming just behind the curtain: bad actors waiting to use AI for their own nefarious purposes.
One study compared human hackers with artificial hackers to see who could get more Twitter users to click on malicious phishing links. The results showed that artificial hackers substantially outperformed their human counterparts. The artificial hacker pumped out more spear-phishing tweets that resulted in more conversions.
This shows how powerful AI can be once it’s weaponized by hackers. Hackers may already be using AI right now- though it’s still hard to tell.
Users are not without means to defend themselves, though. VPNs have long been used as a countermeasure against hackers. The VPN industry has even grown due to the recent problems regarding user data and personal information like the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal and how the EU’s GDPR effectively drove many websites to block IPs from the EU.
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) protects your privacy by masking your IP. It also routes your internet traffic through secure tunnels where it is encrypted. Most VPNs on the market currently use military-grade 256-bit AES to encrypt your data along with a multitude of various security features.
The problem is that anyone with the time and resources can still break through your VPN’s defense- especially if you’re a high profile target. This can either be done by getting the key through some nefarious means or by exploiting known vulnerabilities to break into the VPN’s encryption.
Breaking a VPN’s encryption is no easy task as it will take lots of computation and time- we’re talking years here. However, with the rise of AI, the process of breaking a VPN’s encryption may have become easier.
Just 2 years ago, DARPA, the US government agency that commissions research for the US Department of Defense, funded the Cyber Grand Challenge. Here, computers were pitted against each other to find and fix bugs in their systems.
The winner, a computer named “Mayhem” created by a team named “ForAllSecure”, took home the $2 million prize. It achieved its goal by not only patching any holes it found in its own system but also by finding and exploiting holes in its opponents’ software before they could be patched.
Although the whole point of the challenge was to speed up the development of AI to defend against hackers, it also showed just how powerful an artificial hacker can be. A machine that could quickly process heaps and heaps of data while developing more ways to defend/attack from its own processes is a double-edged sword.
This is why some VPN companies have started incorporating AI to defend against hackers- human or otherwise.
The future of VPNs is AI augmented
One VPN that has started using AI as part of their VPN service is Perfect Privacy. Their AI takes the form of Neuro routing (AI-based routing). With this, the AI makes a connection based on where the user is connecting to. The AI chooses the closest server to the destination server and does so separately for all connections.
This means that if you’re in Romania but you’re connecting to a website hosted in New York, the VPN will choose a New York-based location as an exit server. This not only reduces latency but also ensures that all traffic remains in the VPN for as long as possible.
This also makes the user appear to have different IPs on different sites which only bolsters privacy even more. Also, because the AI is dynamic in its approach, it frequently changes its route to be the shortest route possible. This makes its routes nigh impossible to predict.
If you’d like a more detailed look at Perfect Privacy and its AI-based routing, check out this Perfect Privacy review.
Some experts believe that someday in the future, we may just let AI handle our security in the Internet of Things for us.
Just recently this year, a wireless VPN router called “Fortigis” was released and touted AI-based defenses. The router uses self-learning AI to keep your connection safe by learning from attack attempts made on any Fortigis router. All devices are then updated to defend against such attacks thereby ensuring up-to-date security.
It also allows you to control who can connect to your home network, alarms you when someone is connecting and informs you of all the devices connected to your home network.
These are just some of the ways the VPN industry is keeping up with the security needs of the times. Who knows what else the future could bring just around the corner. Whatever it is, one thing is for sure: Artificial intelligence will be a big part of it.
Dana Jackson, an U.S. expat living in Germany and the founder of PrivacyHub. She loves all things related to security and privacy. She holds a degree in Political Science, and loves to call herself a scientist. Dana also loves morning coffee and her dog Paw.