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Tackling the Rise of Generative Email Attacks: A Guide for Cybersecurity Professionals

The rise of AI generative tools has many advantages for organizations, including increased automation, efficiency, time-savings, and significant cost-savings. Unfortunately, these same benefits also extend to threat actors and criminal organizations who are leveraging these same tools for malicious gains. We’ve already seen that tools like [ChatGPT can generate phishing emails](https://www.armorblox.com/blog/protecting-critical-business-workflows-in-the-age-of-chatgpt) and tools like Dall-E and Midjourney can generate fake images in a matter of moments. There are even AI-based tools that can generate fake landing pages and do reconnaissance research for you, finding out details like a target’s work and education history, interests, connections, and more. 

This means cybersecurity professionals find themselves facing a new and unsettling reality as end users’ ability to discern between legitimate communications and AI-generated attacks becomes harder. 

Cybersecurity professionals should start by understanding the potential threats posed by these attacks and how to equip their organizations with [effective strategies to counter them](https://www.armorblox.com/blog/is-chatgpt-a-security-risk). Let’s discuss the [implications of generative text-based attacks](https://www.rsaconference.com/library/presentation/usa/2022/generative%20email%20attacks%20and%20how%20to%20defend%20against%20them), explore the capabilities of modern language models, and discuss proactive measures that security teams can take to secure their organization and end users.

## **The Power of Modern Language Models**

Today’s language models have billions of parameters and have evolved from rule-based systems to sophisticated neural networks. Because they’ve been trained on massive and diverse datasets, these models have achieved remarkable proficiency in generating coherent and contextually relevant text when prompted. 

To train text-generating AI models, vast amounts of textual data are used. These datasets consist of diverse sources, including books, articles, websites, and other written materials. The training process involves exposing the model to this corpus of text and iteratively adjusting the model’s parameters to optimize its performance.

In the case of transformer models like [OpenAI’s GPT](https://openai.com/), the training process involves a technique called unsupervised learning. The model is trained to predict the next word in a sequence of words, given the preceding context. By training on massive datasets with billions of sentences, the model learns the statistical patterns, semantic relationships, and syntactic structures present in the text.

Advancements in natural language processing and machine learning have given rise to powerful language models. Attackers can exploit these new systems to create sophisticated and convincing communications for malicious purposes, such as social engineering, targeted phishing attacks, brand impersonation attacks, and more. 

## **Potential Misuse of Generative Text-Based Models**

**Social Engineering Attacks:** Adversaries can leverage generative text to construct persuasive narratives aimed at manipulating individuals into compromising their security or divulging sensitive information. By emulating the writing style of trusted sources and exploiting personal data, attackers can deceive targets into unwarranted disclosures.

**Spear Phishing and Email Attacks:** Generative text-based models facilitate the creation of highly personalized and compelling phishing emails. Attackers can craft messages that possess an appearance of legitimacy, incorporating contextually relevant information to deceive recipients into engaging with malicious links, downloading infected attachments, or revealing sensitive data.

**Malicious Content Generation:** Language models have the capability to generate malicious code, malware, or scripts that exploit vulnerabilities within software systems. Attackers can utilize generative text to automate the production of malicious content, bypassing legacy and native security measures and enhancing the speed and scale of their operations.

## **How to Protect Against Generative Email Threats**

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**User Education and Awareness:** Raise awareness among users regarding the existence and capabilities of generative email threats. Educate them about the associated risks related to social engineering, phishing, and email attacks. Emphasize the importance of exercising caution when encountering unfamiliar or suspicious communications or requests.

**AI-Powered Email Security:** Integrate email security that leverages the same large language models that the attackers have access to. These platforms have behavioral analyses that can detect a change in user behavior, email communications patterns, and more – protecting against many threats that commonly bypass native and legacy email security solutions. 

**Continuous Monitoring and Incident Response:** Establish robust monitoring systems to detect and respond promptly to generative text-based attacks. Implement an effective incident response framework that facilitates swift containment, thorough investigation, and mitigation of potential security breaches.

**Become a Student of AI:** AI is evolving at a rapid speed, which means it’s more important than ever to stay up to date on these changes and how they impact the threat landscape, affecting both security and threat actors.

## **Protect Against Generative Email Threats With Armorblox**

The era of generative text-based attacks has arrived, posing significant challenges and a need for advanced email security. As the line between human and AI-generated text blurs, attackers can personalize email attacks at scale, pulling in information from public internet profiles and generating malicious emails that are hard to detect. 

Armorblox uses large language models, like GPT, AI, deep learning, and ML algorithms to protect against sophisticated and targeted email attacks and data loss across your organization, regardless of whether the threat was generated by a human or AI. 

[See first-hand](https://www.armorblox.com/product-tour/) how Armorblox leverages large language models, like GPT, to stop targeted email attacks and prevent organization-specific data loss.

### Click below to watch our Head of Data Science, Prashanth Arun’s full presentation on this topic at the annual RSA Conference.