Copilot, AI And The Risk Of Data Breaches

Data Breach

According to one recent study, about 41% of small companies say that they're currently developing an AI strategy for the future.

When you consider that artificial intelligence is a perfect chance to increase efficiency, productivity, and cut costs, all at the same time, it's easy to see why.

Another study indicated that about 37% of businesses cite "lack of expertise" as their main issue that has prevented them from embracing AI up to this point.

Thankfully, tech giants like Microsoft have attempted to address challenges like that head-on with the release of tools like Microsoft 365 Copilot.

Copilot is a tool that incorporates Ai into all the Microsoft productivity apps your business is likely already using like Word, Excel, Teams, and more.

You can have it write reports, visualize data, create presentations, and more - all from applications you're already comfortable with.

But as is true with any type of new technology, AI must be used with caution in a business setting.

When something is this powerful, and it offers potential that appears to be this unlimited, the inherent risks are equally severe.

This is one of those situations where the old saying of "you don't know what you don't know" absolutely applies.

By making an effort to better understand how artificial intelligence and the risk of data breaches are related, along with where AI-powered tools like Copilot fit into all this, you'll be able to make the most informed decisions that you can given the available information.

That way, you'll set your employees, your clients, and your entire organization up to enjoy all the benefits of the AI revolution with as few of the potential downsides as possible.

Understanding Data Breaches And How They Impact Businesses

For as long as businesses have depended on Internet connectivity to serve their clients and customers, data breaches have been a major risk.

But over the last decade in particular, things have taken a somewhat dramatic turn thanks in no small part to the unrivaled potential that advancements like artificial intelligence have brought with them.

Experts agree that AI has certainly increased the sophistication of the attacks that business leaders are likely to face.

Those with malicious intentions can use it to craft more realistic phishing attacks or to more effectively impersonate other people.

AI-powered automation has increased the rate and effectiveness of these attacks.

There are new vulnerabilities in terms of data privacy that can be exploited.

The list goes on and on.

This is a problem that is only going to get worse before it gets better.

According to one recent study, the average cost of a data breach in the United States alone has hit $9.48 million as of 2023.

Unfortunately, two of the most heavily targeted industries are healthcare and financial services, due to the value of the information that can be stolen.

According to The HIPAA Journal, there were 26 healthcare data breaches in 2023 that compromised more than a million records each.

There were four breaches across the industry that exposed more than eight million records.

In financial services, the situation isn't much better.

There were 744 major breaches across the sector in 2023 - up from just 138 a few years earlier, in 2020.

This actually makes it the second-most targeted industry by incidents.

If you're in charge of a hospital and your organization suffers this type of breach, you might be able to survive.

If you're a private eye doctor or dermatologist, the odds aren't in your favor.

It has been estimated that about 60% of all small businesses go out of business permanently within just six months of this type of cyberattack.

How AI Can Both Mitigate And Introduce Risks

One of the most impactful ways in which AI tools like Copilot can help detect data breaches early has to do with how this technology was designed to work in the first place.

Remember that when it comes to artificial intelligence and subsets like machine learning, the tools themselves get "better" and "smarter" as more data is fed into them.

This type of training data is how tools like ChatGPT and even Copilot itself seem to take massive leaps forward in functionality in a short window of time.

Within the context of your own system, this means that as Copilot ingests more data, it begins to establish a baseline pattern of what "normal" operating conditions look like.

Then, if anything deviates from "normal," as it would in the event that a network intrusion had occurred or that a data breach was in progress, it could instantly detect those anomalies and present them to the right people for fast and effective action.

Of course, there is another part of this story, too.

AI tools do expose enterprises to potential vulnerabilities that wouldn't necessarily exist were there not such a heavy reliance on artificial intelligence in the first place.

  • Backdoors, malware, and other examples of malicious code can be introduced to the system through training data. This is why it is always so essential to make sure that you're only sourcing high quality, accurate, and actionable data to begin with. As the old saying goes, "garbage in, garbage out."
  • Inadequate asset protection can easily lead to issues. This can manifest itself in the form of a lack of proper identification, an inability to track data and related assets, and a lack of protection of models, software, and even the data itself.
  • Weak access controls are always a potential issue, as is true with any type of software. If an unauthorized user can perform access beyond their permissions in terms of AI environments, models, or data, you're always operating in a condition where calamity could easily occur.

Copilot's Approach To Minimizing Data Breach Risks

Microsoft Copilot includes a number of features that are designed to help minimize the potential of a data breach across your organization.

One of the biggest of these has to do with how Copilot works with other security-centric Microsoft products you're likely already using.

Copilot can integrate with not only Defender XDR, but also tools like Defender Threat Intelligence, Intune, Sentinel, and others.

Script analysis, for example, can analyze literally hundreds of lines of code and interpret them on the hunt for vulnerabilities and other anomalies in a matter of minutes.

Copilot can also help respond to incidents faster than ever.

Copilot can provide summaries of active incidents that were identified through Microsoft Defender, for example.

It can give you step-by-step instructions regarding what your incident response should be.

This is in addition to the other robust security features that are available, like tenant isolation.

Copilot will only use data from the current user's Microsoft 365 tenant.

This will not allow someone who is a guest user, for example, to access information that should only be available to administrators.

You can also easily manage user permissions based on the department someone works for, their role within the organization, and more.

This makes sure that regardless of how powerful Copilot becomes, only the people who need information to do their jobs actually have access to it.

But even though tools like Copilot do have specific features that are aimed at reducing breach risks, remember that the breach techniques themselves are constantly evolving.

This is why continuous monitoring and improvement need to be at the forefront of your artificial intelligence journey.

Stay up-to-date on everything going on in terms of AI and cybersecurity.

Always be on the lookout for new vulnerabilities just waiting to be taken advantage of so that you can address them quickly.

Communicate openly and honestly with your employees, your customers, and all other key stakeholders to show that you understand the climate and you're always taking action to help keep everyone - and their data - as safe as possible.

Developing A Data Breach Response Plan

When developing a data breach response plan for your own organization, the first thing you need to do is define the breach.

That is to say, what was targeted by those with malicious intentions and what "damage" has actually occurred?

This could involve people, data, applications, or even your entire system depending on the situation.

At that point, you can begin to take steps like:

  1. Identify the proper response teams. Recovering from a data breach is a time of action. This will require an "all hands on deck" approach for your organization. People need to know what their responsibilities are if and when a breach does occur.
  2. Develop a contact list including people outside your business who need to be contacted. In financial services and healthcare, this will likely include regulatory authorities, legal professionals, and more.
  3. Develop your communication plans. You'll need to open direct and honest lines of communication with customers, with your staff members, and even the media. People need to know what happened, why it happened, and what you're doing about it.
  4. Do whatever you can to mitigate the impact of the event. Your business should already have processes in place to recover data in the event that it is lost. This is a time to draw from those plans. You'll also need to address the vulnerabilities that were exploited, record every action that you're taking, and monitor your response to make sure you're making meaningful improvements all the while.

Throughout this period, it is essential that you understand why a rapid response and transparent communication matters.

If you're a financial services professional or a healthcare provider, people are putting a great deal of trust in you.

They may have tasked you with securing their financial future, or making sure that they're living the healthiest life possible.

Nobody is saying that mistakes cannot occur.

Data breaches are unfortunately common.

But failing to act quickly, or even not being forthcoming regarding exactly what happened, what you're doing to fix it, and what you're doing to make sure it never happens again, could create the type of reputational damage that even the strongest organization will not recover from.

That's before you even get to the financial damage associated with penalties from laws like HIPAA, which happen even if you were not "willfully neglectful" in your use of AI.

A New Era Of Data Security And Protection

Yes, it's absolutely true that AI tools are inherently powerful.

Something like Copilot can be used to help decrease costs for a small community bank and free up valuable funds that can be better used to serve members.

It can help free up time from an eye doctor's day by increasing efficiency, allowing them to focus more of their attention on direct patient care.

But these tools also need to be monitored with an understanding that they are nothing if not a double-edged sword.

How you approach Copilot risk management and data breach prevention and how you use Copilot to benefit your small business are two concepts that need to be permanently linked to one another in your mind, for example.

Think about how quickly AI has evolved in the context of how most of us now think about it: ChatGPT.

ChatGPT was first introduced to the world in late November 2022.

Less than two years later, GPT-4o was introduced with the capability to "reason across audio, vision, and text in real-time."

Think about the almost unfathomable leap this represents in such a short amount of time.

Unfortunately, this means that cyber threats are evolving just as fast.

That's why, in terms of AI data breaches in particular, you cannot assume that you've "done enough" to protect yourself against the landscape.

The landscape is literally changing on a daily basis.

You need to change just as quickly.

Always monitor your processes to address vulnerabilities or fill in gaps in your own abilities as they're discovered.

When new threats emerge, don't wait for them to strike so that you can react to them.

Be proactive about making sure they don't become an issue in the first place.

Always update your plans as new information comes in - which it will do, often more frequently than you'd like.

Especially if yours is a business operating in healthcare or financial services, there are no shortage of people out there who want to use technologies like artificial intelligence to do you harm.

You need to do whatever it takes to stay one step ahead of them, especially as solutions like Copilot become more ubiquitous parts of our lives all the time.

If you're interested in finding out more about Microsoft Copilot, artificial intelligence, and the risk of AI data breaches, or if you'd just like to discuss your own data breach prevention methods with a team of experts in a bit more detail, please don't delay - contact us today.

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