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By Chris Ehrlich

CAMBRIDGE, U.K. — Artificial intelligence (AI) poses an “existential” threat to companies, and nearly all corporate IT and security leaders are marshaling resources to defend themselves, according to a recent survey. 

Ninety-six percent of survey respondents in IT and security leadership roles said they’re preparing for AI cyber attacks, and “many” of them are planning to use AI as a defense against AI.

The survey is part of the report “Preparing for AI-enabled cyberattacks” by MIT Technology Review Insights, in association with Darktrace, an autonomous AI cybersecurity company. The report was released this month.

The corporate anticipation of AI threats comes as 60% of the respondents believe human-driven responses “fail to keep up with automated cyber attacks.”

The report includes numerous key findings on cybersecurity:

Most concerning cyber attacks

• Email attacks (74%), ransomware (73%), cloud-based attacks (68%), insider threats or data leakage (64%), risk introduced by dispersed workforce (58%) and threats to cloud applications (57%)

How AI will be used against companies

• Impersonation and spear-phishing attacks (68%), more effective ransomware (57%), misinformation and the undermining of data integrity (56%), disruption of remote workers by targeting home networks, deep fakes (43%)

Challenges to responding to AI attacks

• Security tools can’t anticipate new attacks (55%), hiring qualified employees is difficult (50%), siloed data and tools make it hard to understand an attack (43%), too many security alerts to manage (34%), around-the-clock staffing is required (31%)

Gearing up for AI attacks

• Allocating more budget to security (52%), assessing AI-enabled security systems (44%), automating the investigation process (39%), deploying autonomous response technology (38%), hiring more security analysts (38%), outsourcing to managed security service providers (MSSPs) (31%)

An abstract image of artificial intelligence (AI) interplay. Courtesy Adobe.

An abstract image of artificial intelligence (AI) interplay. Courtesy Adobe.

“From the results, it is clear that cybersecurity is a real and significant issue for business leaders — and AI is going to play a very big part in securing all enterprises,” said Laurel Ruma, editorial director of the U.S. at MIT Technology Review. 

The survey’s findings show that the marketplace is at “a watershed moment, and business executives are preparing for a new era of attacks,” said Nicole Eagan, chief strategy and AI officer at Darktrace.

“Approaches that are based on analyzing historical attacks will be ill-equipped to defend against offensive AI,” Eagan said.

Cambridge, U.K.-based Darktrace has more than 1,500 employees globally and serves over 4,000 organizations.

The company, founded in 2013, says its Darktrace AI detects a cyber threat “every second.”


MIT Technology Review Insights surveyed over 300 C-suite executives, directors and managers from December 2020 to January 2021.

Respondents work in over a dozen industries, such as IT and telecommunications (31%), manufacturing (13%) and financial services (12%).

The leaders in the survey are working in markets across the world: North America (48%); Europe, the Middle East, Africa (36%); Asia Pacific (11%); and Latin America 5%.

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