In today’s fast-paced digital landscape, the widespread adoption of AI (Artificial Intelligence) tools is changing the way organizations operate. From chatbots to generative AI models, these SaaS-based applications offer many benefits, from increased productivity to better decision making. Employees using AI tools benefit from quick answers and accurate results, enabling them to do their jobs more effectively and efficiently. This popularity is reflected in the staggering numbers associated with AI tools.
OpenAI’s viral chatbot, ChatGPT, has amassed around 100 million users worldwide, while other generative AI tools such as DALL E and Bard are also gaining significant traction for their ability to easily generate impressive content. The generative AI market is projected to exceed $22 billion by 2025, demonstrating the increasing reliance on AI technology.
However, amidst the enthusiasm surrounding AI adoption, it is imperative to address the concerns of security professionals within organizations. They ask legitimate questions about the use and permissions of AI applications in their infrastructure: Who uses these applications, and for what purposes? Which AI apps have access to company data, and what level of access have they been granted? What information do employees share with this app? What are the compliance implications?
The importance of understanding which AI applications to use, and the access they have, cannot be overstated. This is a basic but important first step to understanding and controlling the use of AI. Security professionals need to have full visibility into AI tools used by employees.
This knowledge is very important for three reasons:
1) Assess Potential Risks and Protect from Threats
It allows organizations to evaluate potential risks associated with AI applications. Without knowing which application is being used, the security team cannot evaluate and protect effectively against potential threats. Every AI tool presents a potential attack surface that must be considered: Most AI applications are SaaS-based and require OAuth tokens to connect with large business applications such as Google or O365. Through these tokens, bad players can use AI applications for lateral movement into the organization. Basic application discovery is available with the free SSPM tool and is the basis for securing the use of AI.
Additionally, knowledge of which AI applications are used in an organization helps prevent the accidental use of counterfeit or malicious applications. The increasing popularity of AI tools has attracted threat actors who create fake versions to deceive employees and gain unauthorized access to sensitive data. By being aware of legitimate AI applications and educating employees about them, organizations can minimize the risks associated with these malicious imitations.
2) Implement Strong Security Measures based on Permissions
Identifying AI application permissions granted by employees helps organizations carry out strong security measures. Different AI tools may have different security requirements and potential risks. By understanding the permissions that AI apps grant, and whether or not these permissions pose a risk, security professionals can adapt their security protocols accordingly. Ensuring that the proper measures are in place to protect sensitive data, and preventing excessive permissions is a natural second step to following visibility.
3) Manage the SaaS Ecosystem Effectively
Understanding the use of AI applications enables organizations to take action and manage their SaaS ecosystem effectively. It provides insight into employee behavior, identifies potential security holes, and enables proactive actions to mitigate risks (revoking employee permissions or access, for example). It also helps organizations comply with data privacy regulations by ensuring that data shared with AI applications is adequately protected. Monitoring for unusual AI orientation, inconsistencies in usage, or simply revoking access to AI applications that shouldn’t be used are among the easily available security measures that CISOs and their teams can take today.
In conclusion, AI applications bring enormous opportunities and benefits to organizations. However, they also introduce security challenges that must be overcome. While AI-specific security tools are still in their infancy, security professionals should take advantage of existing SaaS discovery capabilities and SaaS Security Posture Management (SSPM) solutions to answer fundamental questions that serve as the foundation for safe AI use: Who in my organization uses which AI apps and with what permissions? Answering this basic question can easily be done using available SSPM toolssave valuable manual labor hours.