Recent developments in generative AI, such as GPT, have revolutionized the AI landscape, bolstering chatbot popularity and effectiveness in various applications. Gartner anticipates that within the next five years, leading up to 2027, chatbots will emerge as one of the primary channels for customer support across a multitude of industries.
However, despite chatbots’ immense potential for bolstering business performance, they are not without associated security risks.
A recent example of substantial security concern is Samsung’s ban on ChatGPT. This action was prompted by instances where employees inadvertently disclosed sensitive information through the chatbot.
But issues of ethics and data breaches represent just the tip of the iceberg regarding chatbot security considerations. In this article, we will delve into the core architecture of a chatbot, examine the various potential threats, and propose effective security best practices. Let’s dive in!
What is a chatbot?
So, let’s start with the fundamentals. A chatbot is a sophisticated software application designed to simulate human-like conversations. These digital assistants employ advanced technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Natural Language Processing (NLP) to comprehend and respond to various user queries in a conversational manner.
For instance, businesses can program chatbots for a myriad of functions like automating customer support, conducting marketing campaigns, scheduling meetings, and many more. By using AI and NLP, these chatbots can effectively interpret customer inquiries, even complex ones, and provide accurate and swift responses.
Chatbot Weaknesses: Major Security Vulnerabilities
But wait, why do we even want to discuss chatbot security? Well, there are some common critical chatbot vulnerabilities:
- Authentication: Chatbots lack a pre-built authentication mechanism, which can allow attackers to gain unauthorized access to user data
- Data privacy and confidentiality: Chatbots process sensitive user data and personal information. Attackers can leverage a chatbot’s lack of data privacy and security policies to access said information, leading to data leaks.
- Generative capabilities: Modern chatbots have generative capabilities, which attackers can use to exploit multiple systems. Hackers use generative AI tools like ChatGPT to build polymorphic malware and execute attacks on different systems.
It’s crucial to note that data breaches aren’t always the work of external hackers. In some cases, inadequately designed chatbots could inadvertently disclose confidential information in their responses, leading to unintended data leaks.
Chatbot Security: The Most Common Risks
1. Data leaks and breaches
Let’s address a predominant danger first – Data leaks and breaches.
Cyber attackers often target chatbots to mine sensitive user information, such as financial details or personal data. This information can be exploited to blackmail the affected users. These attacks typically hinge on exploiting a chatbot’s design vulnerabilities, coding bugs, or integration issues.
IBM’s 2021 data breach cost report unveils that the average financial impact of a data breach involving 50 to 65 million records amounts to a formidable $401 million.
Such breaches often occur due to the chatbot service provider lacking adequate security measures. Equally, without proper authentication, data accessed by third-party services can cause security concerns for chatbot providers.
2. Web application attacks
Chatbots are susceptible to attacks such as cross-site scripting (XSS) and SQL injection through vulnerabilities caused during development. Cross-site scripting is a cyberattack where hackers inject malicious code into the chatbot’s user interface, allowing the attacker to access the user’s browser, ultimately leading to unauthorized data manipulation. SQL injection attacks target the backend database of a chatbot, allowing the perpetrator to execute arbitrary SQL queries, extract data, and modify a database.
3. Phishing attacks
One of the most prominent chatbot security risks is phishing, where attackers add malicious links to an innocent-looking email. This is also known as social engineering, where users are lured into clicking a malicious email link, which injects code or steals data.
Attackers use chatbots in phishing attacks in many ways. For example, they can ask users to click a link through their email accounts during the conversation — or chatbots can send personalized emails that influence users to open and click a malicious link.
4. Spoofing sensitive information
Cyber attackers can use chatbots to access and use user credentials illegally. Further, hackers can use chatbots to impersonate a business, charity organization, or even users to gain access to sensitive data. This is such a concern with chatbots because most lack a proper authentication mechanism, making impersonation relatively easy.
5. Data tampering
Chatbots are trained through algorithms identifying key data patterns, so the data must be accurate and relevant.
The chatbot may provide misguided or misleading information if it isn’t — or if someone has tampered with the data. This is where intent detection is essential, as this allows chatbot systems to detect the intent behind a user’s input.
DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) is a type of cyber-attack where hackers flood a target system with unusual traffic, making it inaccessible to users.
If a chatbot is the target of a DDoS attack, hackers flood the network that connects the users’ browsers to the chatbot’s database, rendering it inaccessible. This can cause a bad user experience, causing lost revenue and lost customers.
7. Elevation of privilege
Elevation of privilege is a vulnerability in which attackers gain access to elevated permissions compared to what they should be allowed. In other words, attackers gain access to sensitive data only available to users with special privileges.
In the case of chatbots, such attacks can allow hackers to access critical programs that control outputs, making the chatbot’s responses inaccurate or downright false.
Repudiation makes finding the root cause of an attack difficult. Hackers deny being a part of a data transaction that corrupts an entire chatbot system, which gives the attackers access to the chatbot database, which they can then use to manipulate or delete vital information.
6 Ways to Make Your AI Chatbots Safer
Given the potential risks and high costs associated with cyberattacks, securing your chatbot is not just an option—it’s a necessity. According to the Ponemon Institute, businesses implementing robust encryption and stringent cybersecurity tactics can save an average of $1.4 million per attack.
Here, we present six crucial steps to mitigate the abovementioned risks and enhance your chatbot security.
1. End-to-end encryption
One of the most popular ways to combat cyber criminals is end-to-end encryption. However, according to the 2020 survey on the worldwide use of enterprise encryption technologies conducted by Statista, only half (56%) of the enterprise respondents reported using extensive encryption.
End–to–end encryption ensures the communication between the chatbot and the user is secure on both endpoints. Messaging apps like WhatsApp use it, meaning third parties can’t eavesdrop on any conversations.
In the case of chatbots, only the intended user can access the data, preserving the confidentiality and integrity of the bot-based interaction.
2. Identity authentication and verification
Chatbot service providers and businesses can ensure that data is secure by using adequate authentication. Two-factor or biometric authentication will ensure that only authorized users can access data.
3. Self-destructing messages
Self-destructing messages are set to destroy after a specific period. Meaning when the chatbot responds to the user’s queries, it doesn’t store the interaction but destroys it instead.
4. Secure protocols (SSL/TLS)
The best way to avoid chatbot security risks is to use secure protocols like SSL (Secure Socket Layer)/TLS (Transport Layer Security). These protocols ensure secure communication between the user’s device and the chatbot server.
Organizations can submit a Certificate Signing Request (CSR) with all the business details to a certificate authority (CA) to get an SSL certificate. Based on the details provided, CA verifies the business’s location, registration information, and domain to issue an SSL certificate.
Installing an SSL certificate on a chatbot can help reduce chatbot security threats like MITM.
5. Personal Scan
Businesses can apply special features to a chatbot, like scanning files to filter malware and other malicious injections. Scanning mechanisms for chatbots mitigate significant security threats, improve malware detection, and safeguard a system against cyber-attacks.
6 Data Anonymization
If your main concern is privacy issues, it’s worth considering data anonymization. It involves altering identifiable data so that individuals cannot be identified from the data set. In the context of chatbots, ensure that all data used for training and interactions is anonymized. This technique provides an additional layer of security, as even in the event of a data leak, the information would not be directly linked to specific individuals. As a result, the potential impact of a breach can be significantly reduced.
Secure Your Chatbot: Harness Expert AI Assistance
Remember, ensuring the security of your artificial intelligence systems is a crucial factor to keep in mind. If you’re looking for support, our team of artificial intelligence experts is here to help you secure your system and choose the most appropriate methods for your unique needs.
Want to create a chatbot using GPT? Check out our comprehensive GPT integration offer, and let’s build a more secure AI environment together.