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How FSI companies can leverage AI to enhance cybersecurity

Paul Kelly

Paul Kelly

Director, Security Business Group, Microsoft

With generative AI, UK financial services companies have an opportunity to unlock new possibilities through innovation, which can help them boost their resilience amid increasing cybersecurity threats. This will help them to better serve customers, increase growth and contribute to the country becoming an AI global leader.

The financial services industry is essential to UK growth, representing approximately 12% of the country’s economic output and providing about 2.5 million jobs, according to the Citi of London Corporation. As a sector, it is critical that it continues to flourish. It’s also essential that the UK bolsters its capacity in terms of cybersecurity.

Meanwhile, the use of AI is expanding prompting new opportunities. Financial services industry (FSI) companies are increasingly implementing AI to improve productivity as part of the digital transformation of their business from risk and compliance to marketing, sales and operations. This transition also implies a proliferation of data, which must be considered, and which requires enhanced data security.

At the same time, customers and consumers are becoming more knowledgeable and excited about the potential of AI to streamline and modernise essential tasks such as payments and core banking. Aggressive cybercriminals are using AI as a tool to conduct sophisticated attacks such as phishing campaigns to exploit the trust of individuals and organisations and extort money.

It's no secret that FSI organisations are currently operating in a challenging environment, mainly due to macro factors. They are navigating regulatory pressures, an uncertain economic future and a geopolitical landscape that is further contributing to the rising risk of cyberattacks. At the same time, they are faced with a shortage of cyber experts who can adequately prepare them against cybersecurity threats.

There’s a general concern that cybersecurity attacks can weaken the position of UK FSI businesses and in turn impact UK growth. Indeed, cyberattacks currently cost the UK an estimated £87 billion every year.

Stronger AI-based cybersecurity programmes at UK companies, and in particular at FSI companies, could help save billions of pounds to the UK economy and catapult the country to the position of AI leader on the global stage. That’s why it is critical for FSI companies to make technological investments to stay competitive and prepare for an uncertain future.

Research has found that cybersecurity is a clear business priority for FSI companies, and FSI decision makers also trust that the benefits of AI to protect against cyber threats outweigh its risks. For example, more than 60% of FSI decision makers surveyed see an opportunity in AI to strengthen cybersecurity and reduce cyber risk. FSI businesses are ready to harness the benefits of AI tools to gain a competitive advantage and to strengthen cybersecurity defences.

Unlocking AI’s potential

The benefits of AI for FSI organisations are numerous, and there are several ways AI can contribute to the strengthening of their cybersecurity programmes.

AI can work as an assistant to reinforce teams’ cybersecurity expertise and fill any skill gaps that can’t be addressed due to the labour shortage in the field. Although AI is unable to fully replace cybersecurity experts, it can certainly augment capacities.

AI can also help plan threat scenarios and do tabletop exercises to prevent or minimise the probability or impact of an attack. As part of planning, AI can also anticipate and set up clear and well-communicated protocols that will be used in case of an attack.

In the unfortunate case of an attack, AI can help quickly and early identify and detect threats as well as prevent them from spreading by making real-time decisions. They can automate specific tasks such as incident response systems and recovery strategies. AI can quickly isolate affected assets to avoid a virus from spreading. Tools that use generative AI simplify the reporting that must be done by security professionals after an event and share results with the rest of the organisation.

To benefit from these AI capabilities, now is the time for FSI organisations to prepare by incorporating AI into security operations. They must adopt best practices that will assist in the proactive planning and implementation of AI-based cybersecurity systems.

A fundamental element of AI-based systems is ethics. Responsible AI must build on a foundation of security, risk management, and trust. It’s essential that AI-based cybersecurity systems respect the privacy of customers, consumers, employees, and third parties. These systems must be reliable and safe.

FSI firms also need to be clear on how risk and controls related to AI map across all three lines of defence within an organisation, namely business management, risk functions, and internal audit.

To ensure this proactive AI implementation is effective, AI-enabled technologies must carefully be adopted across the entire organisation. Indeed, FSI companies must pay attention to how well new AI solutions integrate with existing processes and systems. Flexibility and agility are key.

By following these best practices, FSI organisations can enhance cybersecurity capabilities with the help of AI-based systems. They can ensure the future security of their business and increase their resilience. They can also ensure the overall level of the country’s cyber resilience, which is the basis for future economic growth and the affirmation of the UK as an AI global leader and an economic power.

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