Reimagining cybersecurity for the generative AI era

Written by Jay Bangle, Chief Technology Innovation Officer, TPXimpact

Generative AI (GenAI) is having a huge impact across the globe, creating new opportunities in everything from efficiency through to process compliance. 

When it comes to the public sector, its benefits are significant. GenAI can streamline access to knowledge, making it easier for staff to gather information, understand the correct procedures, and make informed decisions. 

However, as these technologies become more embedded in the public sector, securing them against cyber threats will be an increasingly difficult challenge to meet. As such, cybersecurity professionals will need to update their strategies and skills to protect these digital tools.


The barriers caused by conventional thinking

Traditional methods of cybersecurity usually rely on fixed concepts such as firewalls, patching, and monitoring. While all these techniques have their benefits and are vital, they also have their limitations when it comes to GenAI. These systems are dynamic and adaptive, which makes them hard to secure using conventional techniques.

One example of this is social engineering. Just like human beings, GenAI models can be manipulated to share sensitive information though methods such as prompt attacks. Traditional cybersecurity measures are usually static, which makes them ill-suited to address dynamic threats like these. If we are to address this, we need to explore new options.


Harnessing language as a firewall

Language can serve as a powerful defensive layer when it comes to GenAI. This is especially important given these technologies’ unique vulnerabilities to prompt attacks and various forms of linguistic manipulation.

Carefully developing metaprompts or system prompts can provide a strong first line of defence against these attacks. These are instructions that guide the AI’s behaviour. By creating precise prompts, we can limit the scope of the AI’s responses, which reduces the risk of sharing sensitive information or making damaging statements. For example, well designed metaprompts should respond, in a polite but firm way, to any questions that aim to extract confidential data or provoke inappropriate responses.

Another vital element involves integrating a distinct AI for natural language processing, which evaluates both the input prompts and the resulting outputs to identify contentious or offensive material. This is not solely about screening incoming data, but also thoroughly examining the generated content. For instance, in the scenario where GenAI is responsible for addressing public inquiries, the discrete, specialised AI should intercept any responses it generates that might be seen as contentious or harmful, enabling human intervention in the conversation.

By treating language as a firewall, organisations can introduce an additional security layer tailored to address the specific challenges presented by these emerging technologies. This strategy offers comprehensive oversight and filtration of both inputs and outputs, providing enhanced protection against both traditional and innovative cyber threats.


Comprehensive strategies for governance

Ensuring the security of GenAI systems requires a multifaceted strategy which covers technical, ethical and legal considerations. The implementation of a comprehensive governance plan can assist in formulating principles, guidelines, and standards to promote the secure and responsible utilisation of these technologies.

Collaboration is of utmost importance here. Cybersecurity experts, technologists, and AI ethicists need to join forces to create robust governance frameworks that specifically tackle the distinct challenges presented by these solutions..


Staff training and education

Effective training is essential for navigating the unique challenges brought about by GenAI. It’s imperative to provide updated cybersecurity training to all employees, not limiting it to just technical teams, in order to enhance their awareness of emerging risks. Cultivating critical thinking skills is equally vital, particularly in the context of scrutinising and verifying the generated outputs.

Staff should also be provided with training in requesting source references and comprehending the reasoning process behind AI-generated content. Furthermore, emphasising the significance of data quality and reliance on trusted sources is vital, as these factors hold considerable sway over the quality of outputs and contribute to reducing potential vulnerabilities. As well as this, GenAI presents opportunities for inventive cybersecurity approaches, rendering staff education a two-way exchange between learning and innovation.


Auditing and AI ethics

Conducting audits and ethics reviews serves as key instruments in guaranteeing that these systems function within acceptable limits, particularly as they progress and change over time. Routine evaluations can play a crucial role in pinpointing vulnerabilities and ethical issues unique to these systems. Armed with these findings, supplementary controls and safeguards can be put in place to help alleviate potential risks.


Preparing for the age of GenAI

As GenAI systems become progressively vital in the public sector, creating greater efficiency, productivity, and process compliance, the intricacy of their security likewise escalates. While traditional cybersecurity measures are fundamental, they fall short in addressing the distinctive challenges presented by these dynamic technologies.

The notion of “language as a firewall” is a transformative change in the realm of cybersecurity thinking. It underscores the significance of meticulously designed metaprompts and system prompts as the initial line of defence. Moreover, the inclusion of a discrete AI system tasked with scrutinising both input and output layers adds a comprehensive layer of security, fortifying protection against both traditional and emerging cyber threats.

Frequent audits and ethics reviews continue to be essential in the process of pinpointing vulnerabilities and ethical issues. A comprehensive governance approach, encompassing technical, ethical, and legal aspects, guarantees that all relevant considerations are addressed. Collaborative efforts among cybersecurity experts, technologists, and AI ethicists are pivotal in the creation of sturdy governance frameworks.

Within this ever-changing landscape, cybersecurity experts must perpetually refine their skills and approaches. An active strategy that encompasses linguistic precision, real-time review, routine audits, and comprehensive governance is pivotal for the secure and responsible deployment of GenAI systems. The field must retain its flexibility, continuously learning and adapting to keep pace with emerging challenges in this swiftly advancing technological future.

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