Cybersecurity as a growth engine

The case of artificial intelligence and cybersecurity

Connected products, services, and operations can be the road to competitive advantage. Companies with strong cybersecurity are in the driver’s seat. Early adopters’ experience with artificial intelligence (AI) makes this clear.

AI is a growth engine, but cybersecurity concerns can make companies hit the brakes

Cybersecurity is often viewed as a cost of doing business. Companies should secure their data, devices, and infrastructure to lessen the risk of stolen data and intellectual property, lawsuits, and regulatory penalties, and reduced customer trust.

While cybersecurity helps companies lower risk, the C-suite should also consider cybersecurity’s role as a growth engine.

Regardless of industry, companies that can make the best use of data can take the lead. Global data traffic is forecast to increase from 1.5 zettabytes (ZB) in 2017 to 4.8 ZB annually by 2022, generated by 28.5 billion networked devices.1 Data courses through cloud infrastructure, digital supply chains, smartphones, and connected “things” such as production equipment and autonomous vehicles. Yet all this connectivity increases the “attack surface” for hackers and malicious actors. Companies with strong cybersecurity can move faster than their peers in deploying technologies that fuel growth.

Consider artificial intelligence. In 2018, Deloitte surveyed 1,100 US executives with AI expertise, representing companies using it today.2 These executives said the top benefit of AI is to enhance their products and services. Developing new AI-infused offerings and employing AI to create new markets were also cited as benefits. In other words, early adopters believe AI paves the road to revenue growth.3

Without a strong commitment to cybersecurity, the benefits of AI—including revenue growth— can be tougher to achieve. Cybersecurity vulnerabilities were the top risk cited by executives, with 51 percent calling them a major concern. This apprehension is well-placed. “Fortunately, the state of the art in cybersecurity is as dynamic as the underlying AI it is protecting,” said Paul Silverglate, National Technology Media and Telecom leader of Deloitte’s Risk and Financial Advisory practice.

Over 90 percent of companies in our survey said they have faced a cybersecurity challenge. Among this group, nearly a third have experienced a cybersecurity breach in the past two years. Perhaps most important, cybersecurity fears are causing companies to slow or even halt their AI initiatives.

Executives agree that the main benefit of AI is revenue growth through new offerings. They also believe AI will soon be essential for their future success: While 11 percent say it’s “critical” today, 42 percent think AI will be crucial for success in two years. That’s a small window to get up to speed with AI, and cybersecurity problems are slowing things down.

The threats executives fear most are:

  • Hackers stealing sensitive data from AI systems
  • Hackers using adversarial data to fool models into producing incorrect results
  • AI being used to hack cybersecurity systems
  • Hackers “reverse engineering” AI algorithms

These fears are real, and the stakes are high. Users rely on AI to guide business strategy and make life-and-death decisions (think autonomous vehicles). With technologies like deep learning neural networks, it is difficult or impossible to understand how AI models reach their conclusions. Users should trust their accuracy and veracity, but cybersecurity vulnerabilities such as adversarial inputs can put that trust into question.

The companies that win the AI race today could be hard to beat later. The winners will likely be the ones that invest in cybersecurity as though their success—and lives—depend on it.

This charticle authored by Jeff Loucks on March 6, 2019.

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Read more about the current state of AI.


1Cisco Visual Networking Index: Forecast and Trends, 2017–2022”, Cisco, November 2018.
2The state of AI in the enterprise, 2nd edition”, Deloitte, October 2018.
3 In addition, 69 percent of executives surveyed feel AI is “very important” or “critical” to their company’s overall business success today, increasing to 82 percent in three years.

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