Our Ally in AI: Canadian Business, Security and Labour Supply Issues

By 17 October 2019 No Comments

Written by Nathan Snider, Manager, Policy & Outreach at ICTC.

In September of 2019, three Southwestern Ontario hospitals were exploited by malicious software designed to collect valuable financial data, isolate systems and disconnect vital networks. The previous year, one hospital in particular was targeted by an attack that disrupted system functionality which supported daily hospital operations, causing extensive downtime and compromising clinical capabilities. The same malware, as experts later noted, that has been used to exploit more than $3.7 million dollars from other institutions.

While independent perpetrators or state-actors once targeted individual businesses or personal bank accounts, cybercrime has evolved to also impact the security and safety of other critical infrastructure like public health-care systems and educational institutions. Cyber-attacks are growing in complexity and sophistication almost every day. However, in light of these developments, countries like Canada, the United States and other members from within the Five Eyes (New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom) are beginning to take a proactive stance on safeguarding these vulnerable institutions. One area of particular interest is the exploration and deployment of artificial intelligence-enhanced cybersecurity technologies. To support the growing interest in the field, their focus also includes the development of new pathways to both train and develop a new cybersecurity workforce.

These particular advancements within the AI field have garnered interest within the international cybersecurity community. As Namir Anani, President and CEO of the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC), explains:

The intersection between AI & cyber security is at a critical juncture. Leveraging the power of A.I. (and machine learning) to evaluate what is a good and bad threat scenario, while being able to respond with the necessary safeguards is challenging. Learning and continuously adapting as threats evolve is also a challenging factor. Cyber security systems will need to continually adapt in terms of intelligence, autonomous systems, and computing power such as Quantum computing.

So how is Canada tackling this new trend? One example is at the post-secondary level. Institutions like the University of New Brunswick (UNB) have partnered with organizations like IBM to advance AI cybersecurity innovation nationally. Working in collaboration with IBM’s own cybersecurity team from their Artificial Intelligence systems program, UNB students work directly with their iconic Watson cognitive platform. Watson is an AI platform utilized to aid in the curation of threat intelligence reports and research found within millions of sources. As a system that weaves neural networking capabilities, machining learning and the use of algorithms to complete repetitive tasks and triage special occurrences based on previous experiences, it’s a powerful ally. The end result grants businesses with an AI system that provides real-time insight, helping SMEs and large-scale enterprises navigate through redundant threat notifications while focusing on more immediate concerns. All while reducing critical response times and lowering labour costs.

In keeping with much broader AI-cybersecurity implications, early 2019 provided us with a report by Capgemini Research Institute that focused on the relationship between AI, cybersecurity and the benefits for small-to-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The report highlighted a few interesting trends, most notably its observation that prior to 2019 approximately only 1 in 5 SMEs employed AI systems to supplement their cybersecurity infrastructure. Fast forward less than 2 years, the report suggests that by the end of 2020 nearly 2 in 3 SMEs are expected to be utilizing this technology. It’s no coincidence then that SME’s are exploring AI-related services. High costs related to full-time cybersecurity personnel, shortages of skilled talent and the risk of security breaches are pressuring businesses to respond quickly and effectively.

To combat cybersecurity talent shortages, provinces like New Brunswick have taken preemptive steps in understanding industry demand, trends, and opportunities. In collaboration with ICTC, the province is looking to examine how major actors within the cybersecurity ecosystem try to attract and develop talent, understand current talent availability and adequately prepare for any potential shortages. As cybercrime continues to evolve, it is clear that those interested in safeguarding organizational and societal data  must do the same. Whether it be a continued exploration of AI-integrated cybersecurity technologies, a heavier investment in Canada’s future workforce, or ongoing support for small businesses’ digital security, Canada must continue to drive research, and the implantation of suitable solutions in order to take a leadership role and a proactive stance against cybercrime.

Nathan Snider is the Manager of Policy and Outreach for the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC). Nathan has taught in the School of Business and Management at Canadore College and the School of Business and Information Technology at Cambrian College. He sits on the Board of Directors for the Near North Mobile Media Lab (providing those in Northern Ontario the means to produce and present media art) and the Enaagaazing Makerspace (an Indigenous community-led cultural production hub). Through his work, Nathan has been a committed advocate for tech accessibility in Northern Canadian communities. Nathan’s previous research has focused on social and economic barriers to the ICT field facing Indigenous communities in Canada.