Solving the Smart Building Cybersecurity Problem with AI

“The most important and urgent problems of the technology of today are no longer the satisfactions of the primary needs or of archetypal wishes, but the reparation of the evils and damages by the technology of yesterday,” said the late Hungarian-British electrical engineer and Nobel prize-winning physicist, Dennis Gabor, CBE, FRS.

In our modern world, technology is often the solution to the problems caused by technology. In few places is this more evident than in smart buildings, where a rapidly evolving technological landscape is creating cybersecurity problems that demand further technological solutions. The proliferation of smart devices in our buildings brings huge benefits for owners and occupants but also brings an increased vulnerability to cyberattacks. Every digital endpoint creates cyber-risk, so as we push ahead with the digitization of buildings, we must also push ahead with more intelligent cyber-security.

“The increased use of internet-connected sensors is turning high-rise offices into computers with a roof that need to guard against breaches,” said Arie Barendrecht, the CEO of WiredScore, that has recently begun offering certification for digital infrastructure in buildings. “There’s a flip side to everything smart and connected, and that’s increased risk.”

Essentially everything smart and connected poses a cyber-threat. In 2018, hackers utilized weaknesses in a connected fish tank thermometer to gain access to confidential information on high-rollers in a Las Vegas casino database. In 2019, hackers infiltrated the connected emergency response system of two suburbs of Dallas, Texas, setting off their tornado warning sirens. Earlier, in 2016, the Mirai botnet hijacked connected printers and cameras to take down many of the world’s most popular websites, including Netflix, Twitter, Spotify, Reddit, The Guardian, and CNN.

“In a relatively short time we’ve taken a system built to resist destruction by nuclear weapons and made it vulnerable to toasters,” tweeted Jeff Jarmoc, head of security for global business service Salesforce.

An obvious solution to the hackability problem of connected devices is to disconnect. The fewer connected devices we have the less vulnerable we are to cyberattack, but that is not the “smart” direction the world is going in right now. If we want all the benefits that smart devices bring then we must find a way to protect our connected technology better, and the solution appears to be more technology. Many experts now suggest that artificial intelligence (AI) is the answer to keep up with malicious software by better understanding the threat landscape to predict, prevent, and protect against IoT-based cyber-attacks.

“AI can be deployed to provide cyber-risk analytics for improving organizational resilience and understanding cyber risk. AI technologies can improve threat intelligence, prediction, and protection as well as enabling faster attack detection and response while reducing the need for human cybersecurity experts. AI can learn from security analysts and improve its performance over time, leading to time savings and better decisions,” explains our latest report – AI & Machine Learning in Smart Commercial Buildings. “These “smart cyber” capabilities are urgently needed as cyber-attacks continue to grow in volume and sophistication.”

It is not as simple as just applying AI to cybersecurity systems, however. Firstly, companies will need significant computing resources and data processing capacity to build and maintain AI systems. Secondly, AI systems must be trained on many different data sets of malicious code, malware code, and anomalies, but obtaining those resources can be difficult and costly. Finally, hackers use AI too, to identify the weaknesses in security systems, even in AI-enabled security systems. So, cybersecurity must introduce AI to keep up with the criminals and this will soon become an endless AI arms race. We need another approach.

“Enterprise security teams rarely have full oversight and often control over these devices, which can make the task of gathering insights into devices difficult. With networks and device connections spread across cloud, mobile, and on-premises environments, blind spots are likely to arise. Where they do, attackers can exploit those oversights to conceal their malicious activity,” the report continues. “To guard against these threats, and to more seamlessly integrate IoT device data into smart building platforms and Digital Twin solutions, IT departments and building operators can leverage device discovery tools which leverage AI and ML to better determine the configuration and security status of devices on the IoT network.”

Smart building cybersecurity must use every tool at their disposal to fend off increasingly sophisticated cyber-attacks, and these tools must be integrated for maximum protection. AI can provide an important element of this integrated smart building cybersecurity ecosystem, always learning to better protect devices and systems from attack, but only if the computing and data needs of AI can be met.

AI alone is not the solution to fend off cyber-threats that are also empowered by AI, but an AI-enabled cybersecurity ecosystem tied into digital twins and other building systems is certainly a huge step forward in the endless battle against hackers in our increasingly connected buildings.

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