Money in the Hands of AI: How Big Brands and Banks Bank on AI for Cybersecurity

It was almost 9:00 AM on Sunday October 11, 2020. And it was my bedtime.

This is typical.

I sleep in the mornings and start my day by the early afternoons—even on weekends.

But today is different.

The message read, “The site is down.”

My sleepy eyes flipped wide open.

Dante, my friend who helps with the site, just texted me to report the event. Siteground shut down my site after cyber attackers accessed the property and planted malware.

Cyber attack email notification to Nicholas Godwin

I was lucky.

It set me back $600, and I was back in business.

The New York Federal Reserve paid an obscene price for theirs. They lost $81 million to a security loophole in the Bangladesh Bank.

When the stakes are high, how do you shield your digital assets in cyberspace?

No doubt, human intelligence can’t keep up. We need something more.

The trillion-dollar question is: should we trust artificial intelligence now?

This article is for you if you’re curious about these three things:

  1. How artificial intelligence is influencing cybersecurity today
  2. How to harness it for your business, and
  3. You want to follow in the steps of big brands who are killing it with AI

Let’s get to it.

Looking Unto AI for Safety?

Trusting AI to keep the banks and your business safe can be a good or bad thing.

It depends on who wins and owns AI — villains or heroes.

Artificial intelligence — like money — is neutral. So, crooks love it, especially because it can give them money.

When they target your business, don’t take it personally.

It’s really not about you, Charlie.

It’s about your money.

And they know where you keep the cash — the BANKS!

Banks have been the target of criminals long before banking came online. So banks know crooks when they see them.

The problem, though, is they don’t see the crooks coming these days.

The human eye can’t see invisible things. Yet.

So what’s a financial fortress to do?

 Turn to Artificial Intelligence for help.

Cybercriminals will cost the world over $6 trillion in a couple of months from now. And by the time you’re reading this, we’re probably in the middle of it.

Thus, banks understand it’s an emergency.

AI cyber security US cases in organizations

AI is helping banks secure their

  • Networks
  • Data, and
  • Endpoints

However, endpoint security is becoming even more critical as more employees work from home both during the COVID-19 pandemic and most likely beyond it.

The Trillion-Dollar Quest for Cybersecurity

To say that banks and corporations are spending on cybersecurity is like saying there’s some water in the ocean.

In under three years, from 2015 to 2018, cybersecurity spending in the US skyrocketed from $45 billion to $66 billion.

But here’s the kicker:

In 2020, Morgan Stanley Research expects $128 billion in spending on IT security alone. The cybersecurity market will go from $173 billion in 2020 to more than $270 in 2026.

It’s clear.

This trend isn’t slowing down soon. 

Global cyber security spending from 2012 to 2016

Cybersecurity Ventures posits cybersecurity spending to hit $1 Trillion by 2021 worldwide. And the banks will probably benefit the most from this coming boom.

Experts from Autonomous, Bain & Company, and Accenture agree that AI-enabled cybersecurity will save the banks $1 Trillion over the coming years.

Bank of America understands the stakes.

Bank of America’s Unlimited Cybersecurity Budget

In 2015, Brian Moynihan, the CEO of America’s second-largest lender, told Bloomberg the bank has no budget constraints for cybersecurity.

In that year alone, Bank of America spent more than $400 million on cybersecurity.

If this ‘no-limits’ budget surprises you, then wait for the facts.

Infosecurity found that cyber attackers target financial service companies 300 times more than any other industry. That’s 30,000% more exposure to cybercriminals.

A more modest report by Websense puts the figure at 300%.

Whether you’re getting three or 300 times more attacks than everybody else doesn’t matter.

You’re getting more bullets — that’s the point. You’re at a higher chance of dying.

Cybercriminals know where to focus their shooting, and they target it squarely:

Big brands and financial institutions.

According to Raytheon’s Websense report, cyber fraudsters switch patterns frequently to outpace the bank’s security systems.

The BoA chief seats through this overwhelming heat every day. And the bank has had its fair share of hits.

In 2011, the Bank of America licked its data breach wounds in a $10 million loss. In another case, they explained that a third-party contractor was responsible for a breach.

BoA is a prime target of cybercriminals. No doubt.

And Moynihan knows. The CEO would stop at nothing to protect the bank’s most important assets. Their money and customer data.

To defeat its attackers, BoA is turning to AI for help.

Why the Panic?

If you think the financial services market is panicky, you’re correct.

And who wouldn’t panic?

For an industry battling a cyber attack every 39 seconds, you should expect more than a tinge of paranoia.

The most popular cyber security attacks companies experience
Data source: Finances Online

Think of it:

Everything runs through the fabric of the financial system.

Parents pay their wards’ school fees. Small businesses receive funding to finance new locations.

Adolescents buy computer games.

Business travelers buy flight tickets.

Money moves things and ideas. EVERYDAY.

These monies pass through or stay in the banks most of the time.

And maybe that explains these hackers’ sentiments for attacking banks, FinTech startups, and financial institutions.

Attacking the Banks

Lloyd’s estimated $400 billion goes to waste every year because of cyberattacks. Some analysts consider the insurance company’s numbers modest — they put the figure at $500 billion.

It’s not only Lloyd’s research that sees cyber attacks as a big deal. KPMG thinks a bad economy isn’t as much of a threat as cyber attacks.

The accounting and consulting giant says cyberattacks could incapacitate banks faster than an economic downturn.

Fortunately or unfortunately, the banks share KPMG’s opinion.

According to Andrew Haldane’s testimony to a committee set up by the U.K. parliament, 80% of top banks in Britain consider cyber attacks their biggest threat.

Attacks on Bangladesh Bank and HSBC come to mind.

Not so long ago, customers of HSBC couldn’t access their accounts for 10 hours as the bank battled a denial of service (DoS) attack.

Cybercrime impact report for ransomware, records breach, and phishing

The attackers are growing more audacious, and victims scarcely know their vulnerabilities before an attack.

In 2016, hackers carted away the New York Federal Reserve’s $81 million by exploiting cybersecurity weaknesses in the Bangladesh Bank.

HSBC and Bangladesh Bank aren’t alone. PayPal, top US banks, and even the CIA has had to battle DoS attacks.

According to a Business Insider report, hackers stole £2.5 million from Tesco Bank. And Russia’s central bank lost 2 million rubles to cyber criminals.

Turning to AI for Help

This growing audacity of cyber criminals and the ever-evolving vulnerabilities in the financial system calls for drastic actions.

And that drastic measure would be AI.

The trend is gaining momentum. Banks are now putting their safety into the hands of Artificial Intelligence systems.

But, if you’re remotely like me, you’d wonder, “how did the banks come to trust AI?”

How AI Earned the Bank’s Trust

IBM financial institutions cyberattack intelligence report

Humans are fallible.

Isn’t that obvious already?

Or why do vulnerabilities in financial systems go undetected until criminals exploit them?

Banks and FinTech companies need smart security systems that perform better than anything they already have. IBM defines five characteristics of an intelligent security system:

  1. Spot and stop vulnerabilities in the system before criminals find them
  2. Know your level of cyber-attack resilience and preparedness
  3. Leverage advanced analytics to unearth new and unknown cyber threats
  4. Be capable of fast recovery in the event of an attack
  5. Keep a coordinated and planned response strategy in the event of an attack

Banks want security systems that support these characteristics. And that’s why they’ve come to trust AI-powered systems.

  • AI spots threats better
  • Helps with compliance
  • Provides better analytics
  • Assists with resource coordination

And more.

Marc Andrews, the Vice President of IBM’s Watson Financial Services, outlined the salient points of their AI-powered bank security intelligence system.

According to Andrews:

  • Watson is helping to speed up and improve the anti-money laundry due diligence process for banks;
  • The AI-powered system helps financial institutions with transaction monitoring;
  • More than 98% of bank security alerts are false positives. With Watson, that number falls to 30% to a maximum of 50%
  • Watson has also reduced the average due to customer diligence time from 13 min 30 seconds to 5 min 20 seconds.

In short, artificial intelligence is generating measurably better results for banks.

But that begs another question.

Is IBM the banks’ superhero of AI-driven cybersecurity? Do they have competitors? 

Who’s AI is the Bank Banking On?

Frankly, IBM is the leader here as a non-bank entity operating in this space. And the reasons are pretty obvious.

Watson spotted the opportunity early.

When the cybersecurity platform launched in early December 2016, it instantly signed up 40 clients, taking big banks and insurance players on board.

The likes of Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation and Sun Financial were Watson’s first clients.

This cybersecurity platform by IBM works by leveraging information from multiple touchpoints across companies and corporations. Watson’s advantage comes from its massive intelligence network.

Spotting threats and emerging security cases and then responding on time requires robust intelligence. The banks battle all sorts of cyberattacks daily.

Ransomware attacks are more common than any other type. Phishing and advanced persistent attacks are the second and third most frequent cyber attacks on financial service organizations.

Most common types of cyberattacks on financial service institutions

No banks are just sitting around waiting to be saved. The banks are in motion too.

These banks have started developing internal AI security systems. Some of the most powerful systems in place include those from JP Morgan Chase, Citi Bank, Wells Fargo, and others.

JP Morgan Chase’s Contract Intelligence (COiN)

This AI system focuses on contract data analysis. In its first use, COiN reduced 360,000 hours of manual work to only a few seconds.

JPMorgan Chase and Co annual reports 2016

According to the bank’s report, “This capability has far-reaching implications considering that approximately 80% of loan servicing errors today are due to contract interpretation errors.”

Wells Fargo’s Artificial Intelligence Enterprise Solutions

The bank aims to tackle fraud and offer a better customer experience using its AI solutions.

85% of people manage business relationships without human interaction
Image Credit: Wells Fargo

One of Wells Fargo’s principal motivations for taking on AI is that human interactions will rely heavily on chatbots.

Citi’s Feedzai

This is Citi Bank’s fraud detection system.

Of course, other players — US Bank, Bank of America, Bank of NY Mellon Corp., PNC, and others — are betting on AI too.

Is it just the banks?

Who Else is Entrusting AI with Their Money and Why?

Banks, Insurance companies, financial services companies, corporations, and startups are relying heavily on AI now.

According to a report from Autonomous, anti-fraud and risk management use cases are some of the most mature uses of AI in the financial services sector.

Fintech AI use cases across financial services

What Would AI Do with Your Bank’s Money?

For the optimist, money in the hands of AI is a dream come true. But not everyone shares that excitement. And for a good reason.

In the wrong hands, AI might as well become our most gruesome nightmare.

Scenario #1: AI in the hands of the Villain

ZeroFOX’s experiment targeting Twitter users revealed that AI-powered bots got their human targets to click on phishing links better than human hackers could.

Sophisticated AI-powered cyberattacks would make attack attribution increasingly tough.

According to McAfee’s cybercrime report, “Adversaries will increase their use of machine learning to create attacks, experiment with combinations of machine learning and AI, and expand their efforts to discover and disrupt the machine learning models used by defenders.”

Not only will the villains use AI to fight back, but the technology will become increasingly affordable.

In short, artificial intelligence will tend to instigate an adversarial AI arms race.

Scenario #2: AI in the hands of the Hero

IBM, again, comes to the rescue.

Robust deep neural networks (DNN) can spot attacks from weaponized AI.

So IBM has provided developers and researchers with their Adversarial Robustness Toolbox for vetting their DNN models’ robustness. This test helps these heroes build preventive measures into their AI systems.

Actions You Can Bank On for Safety

Wells Fargo said it all. Soon, almost nine in every ten interactions with the bank will be human-to-chatbot interactions. So your money and identity will be in the hands of these Artificial Intelligent systems.

Accept it or leave it. The battle line is drawn.

It’s no longer humans and machines.

It’s the machines against themselves. One side for the human villains trying to weaponize AI. And the other side for the heroes.

Let’s do more than sit and hope the heroes win.

Make victory inevitable by empowering your team:

Don’t just wait for victory. Create it.

Excellent work on this, Nicholas. Content depth, sentence structure, benefits for the readers, it's all in there!




Nicholas Godwin

Address: Golf Nord Cite Comico 2 No. 129, Dakar 15000, Senegal.
Phone: +221775040557


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