McAfee CEO Greg Johnson on the Cybersecurity Threat From Generative AI | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #ransomware

Generative artificial intelligence can bring benefits to consumers yet also risks from threats such as more sophisticated phishing scams.
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  • Generative artificial intelligence can make consumers’ lives easier, but it’s helping scammers, too.
  • McAfee CEO Greg Johnson told Insider GenAI is making threats like phishing more sophisticated.
  • The more benefit it brings to consumers, it also goes to the scammers, Johnson said.

Greg Johnson sees a battle of the bots unfolding.

The CEO of McAfee, the online security company known for its antivirus software, is embracing generative artificial intelligence as a way to boost his employees’ productivity and help them keep up with online threats.

But Johnson also sees GenAI’s dark side.

The same tools that can write music or kick out essays in seconds can also give scammers and hackers a massive boost, Johnson told Insider. GenAI, in effect, represents a further democratization of incredible computing power for individuals — and of the shady methods people use to swindle others online.

McAfee CEO Greg Johnson

Johnson pointed to the increased quality and sophistication of phishing scams. Not long ago, poor language or amateurish-looking messages were giveaways that something was up. But now, Johnson said, GenAI is helping bad actors both polish and multiply their schemes.

These include fake AI-generated phone calls and videos indicating that a loved one is in distress and, no surprise, needs money now. “You used to have pretty blunt ways of attacking consumers,” Johnson said. But now, “you can be very focused through GenAI and scale to significant amounts.”

The splashy arrival of GenAI last fall marked another milepost for consumers trying to keep pace with new technology.

Johnson said the digital landscape is forever shifting because of technological advances. “It’s driven by the way consumers are adopting technology, how it fits in their life,” Johnson said. “And in that world, with Gen AI most recently, it’s just accelerating the change that consumers are having to navigate.”

Johnson is looking to use tools like AI to help the company innovate and roll with the rate of change he sees in what he calls the threat landscape. Johnson said McAfee will use GenAI to help boost worker productivity, to help with things like marketing, and to speed up how fast the company can move in general.

“At the same time, our job is to protect customers from what can go wrong — and that is exploding,” he said.

The cost of security — and of not having it

Johnson, who stepped into the top job at McAfee in June last year, said the pandemic forced so many of us online for work, school, and so much else that security became a big need. That spun up a tailwind for the industry — but one that wouldn’t last.

When the economy began its reboot following pandemic lockdowns, the burst of activity helped fan inflation. Rising prices, in turn, pushed some consumers to look for ways to cut spending. Johnson said the pressures some customers faced presented a challenge for companies like McAfee, which in 2021 sold off its security business aimed at companies to focus on consumers.

It was during the late-pandemic period that some of the company’s potential customers began to think of digital security measures as more of a “want” rather than a need, Johnson said.

The task the company now faces, he said, is to get consumers to reconsider the threats swirling around them.

“Our customers can be their own worst enemy,” Johnson said. “A lot of the behaviors — the things they ignore, the things they explore, all in the idea of trying to lead a more enriching life — can paradoxically be the worst thing they can do that causes issues.”

Yet despite the risks that GenAI will help churn out ever more sophisticated scams, it seems unlikely many people will give up the online habits they’ve developed.

“It’s a dual effect,” Johnson said, referring to GenAI. “It brings a ton of benefit to consumers in their lives. But, paradoxically, the more benefit it brings to consumers, it also goes to, you know, the scammers.”


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