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AI-powered social engineering attacks are seeing a huge rise - and that's a major problem

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Hackers have fully adopted generative AI tools into their latest attacks, with unfortunately successful results, new research has claimed.

Data from cybersecurity experts Darktrace demonstrates that phishing surged with the general adoption of Chat-GPT, and that these emails have gotten a lot better and sophisticated, as well.

First, between January and February 2023, the number of phishing email attacks rose by 135%, aligning perfectly with the rising popularity of the chatbot. Darktrace customers alone have received almost three million phishing emails in December 2023 alone, representing a 14% jump compared to September the same year.

Significant impact

Then, the number of polished phishing emails - those with sophisticated language and improved punctuation - increased by 35% between September and December 2023. Darktrace bases this data on a survey of 1773 IT professionals from CISOs through to analysts in 14 countries globally, including 493 CIO, CISO or IT Security Executives.

In the pre-Chat-GPT era, cybersecurity researchers suggested users proofread emails they deem suspicious. Many hackers are not from English-speaking communities, don’t have high English language skills, or simply can’t be bothered to edit their emails. Hence, their emails often carry spelling and grammar errors, something companies they’re trying to impersonate can’t afford.

However, since the emergence of Chat-GPT and similar generative AI tools, hackers got a free, advanced content writer and spellchecker, resulting in more believable emails. 

As a result, almost all (89%) of IT security experts believe AI-augmented cyber threats will have a significant impact on their organization within the next two years, while 60% still remain unprepared for this inevitability. For the 1,700+ IT pros surveyed for the report, their two greatest concerns are increased volume and sophistication of malware attacks delivered via phishing, and employees leaking sensitive data by using generative AI tools. 

To tackle the growing threat of AI-powered attacks, IT teams are advised to integrate AI in their defenses, too.

“AI can help organizations to address novel threats across their entire technology footprint,” commented Darktrace’s CEO, Poppy Gustafsson.

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