How can Malaysia conquer the dark side of AI?

By Amanda Oon

Exclusive interview with Dr Dato Amirudin, CEO of CyberSecurity Malaysia.

Artificial intelligence is moving into Malaysia’s mainstream. As Dr Amirudin Abdul Wahab, CEO of CyberSecurity Malaysia notes, “AI nowadays is involved in many areas… business analytics, weather forecasts, threat detection”.

But when “everything is connected, nothing seems to be private”, he says. This increasing reliance on tech leaves a wider attack surface for sophisticated cyber-criminals.

He talks to GovInsider's AI x GOV about the “dark side” of digitalisation, the evolution of AI-enabled cyber-threats, and why a human-centric approach to AI application is a vital weapon in the war against cyber-crime.

AI accountability

Most of us know to protect our personal belongings. But when it comes to our personal data, Amirudin observes, we are leaving ourselves exposed. As we increasingly live our lives through the screens of our smartphones, he warns that our personal images, our videos, GPS location, call history and messages, are all at the mercy of a mobile app.

Advances in technology have further increased this risk. It means increased productivity and improved public services for citizens, but, he cautions, people should enter an AI-enabled era with their eyes open, and the knowledge that their data may be exposed online.

He stresses the importance of greater awareness and accountability across the community “[to] raise their voices against an unethical use of AI on personal data without [users’] knowledge”. But when “[most people] still do not realise the gravity of the situation”, governments too have a duty to be “more responsible…to create data regulation policies that bring more transparency, especially within online platforms”.

Upskilling too is key, to provide the next generation with the resources to face the next digital era. Amirudin points out that many institutions are already introducing AI ethics. In Malaysia, he hopes, AI academia will soon be as mainstream as AI applications.

An AI-enabled workforce

Digital upskilling extends to the workforce. Amirudin admits that AI’s capacity to replace human efforts is inevitable. Due to its “capabilities to predict and to prescribe…[AI] may be [able] to reduce or prevent human error”, he explains.

In Malaysia, the threat of Man vs. Machine seems less the domain of science fiction, and more an ominous reality. 50 per cent of the country's workforce works in “highly automatable activities” and automation is predicted to displace up to 25 per cent of hours, or 4.5 million workers by the end of the decade, McKinsey has found.

But, Amirudin insists, by practically applying automated technologies with a human-centric approach, AI can help build a more digitally savvy and digitally secure population. “It can also provide training solutions and alternatives to decision makers”, he suggests. When it comes to cybersecurity, automation can be our first line of defence, helping to accurately and efficiently predict patterns about potential cyber threats.

AI: a double edged sword

Digitalisation is “a double-edged sword” that needs to be handled carefully. While Amirudin stresses the advantages AI can add to proactive defence, he also warns that AI is not just for us. It can also be used against us.

As new technologies advance, he predicts cyber-criminals will leverage on these developments, coming up with new effective methods to prey on their victims.

To gain ground in this race of AI applications, Malaysia has launched a Cyber 999 hotline under MyCert – the nation’s computer emergency response team – that provides critical information on the changing cyber landscape. Of the 10,790 incidents reported last year, 70 per cent were of digital fraud, a threat that is becoming more complex with the advancement of AI. Malaysia is also seeing an increasing threat related to ransomware, as well as targeted attacks such as spear phishing, weaponised AI and social engineering, he notes.

For Amirudin, this intelligence is vital arsenal in the wider war against AI-enabled cybercrime, a battle that – as the digital landscape continues to develop – is far from over.

“We need to acquaint ourselves with the relevant skills and knowledge and capabilities”, he says firmly. “So that we can be prepared to fight”.

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