Chicken Little

With Skeeve Stevens

How can financial services fight AI powered cybercrime?

As a financial services company, you are 300 times more likely to be targeted by a cyber attack, with 63% of financial institutions experiencing increased attacks in 2022. AI plays a massive role in cyber attacks, bringing huge challenges, but it could also be part of the solution in your fight against cybercrime.

Skeeve Stevens is the founder of The Future Crime Agency and is known as the 'I told you so guy'. He's also an ex-hacker, committing one of Australia's most notorious internet cyber crimes. So who better to ask for cybersecurity advice?

We got Skeeve onto the Upfront podcast to talk about how AI is being used to target financial services businesses and their customers - and what you can do to protect yourself and your business.

Here's some of what he had to say. Listen to that episode in full here or wherever you get your podcasts.

It's scary to know how easily I could have disrupted half the country just by making a phone call and knowing the right words.

Skeeve, what cybercrimes are financial services up against?

There are a lot of things they're going to have to deal with. At the moment, crimes involving fakeness are the number one. SMS. Phishing is doing a lot of damage because people are still quite gullible. Voice cloning is already being hit. A bank manager got a phone call from the CEO asking him to transfer $33 million, and he did it. That was one of the first major crimes like that. It's just a matter of time before we start getting instructions - like Warren Buffett's trader gets a call from 'Warren Buffett' saying, "dump a million Apple shares". In my former life as a network architect engineer, I built very big network cells in data centres. It's quite scary to know how easily I could have disrupted half the country and different places around the world just by making a phone call and knowing the right words. Many things like that will start to happen and far, far worse.

That's pretty scary. Do we need to rethink how security works?

That's going to be a big theme very, very soon. So, for example, I don't know if you're real. I see you, but you could be a deepfake. You could be Gal Gadot, for all I know! The advice I give to everyone at the moment to avoid scams is to have a phrase. It'll be just like the old spy movies where someone sits on a seat next to someone and goes, 'The frog is blue,' and the correct response is, 'But is it snowing in Finland?'. So you'll both know you've got the right person. You need to do that with your kids, your partner, your employment space, and do it immediately because on the phone or video calls, doesn't matter what the hell it is. It's not necessarily them anymore. We'll have to think of new ways to do Zoom and update Skype and other video communications. Facebook will probably introduce something to show that it's a secure connection. This is not new, but we'll have to come up with things fast.

On the phone or video calls, it's not necessarily them anymore.

Can we trust AI to help protect us against cybercrime?

As much as AI is used to do bad things, people also use AI to detect those things. But that could go bad. A teacher recently put a bunch of students' essays into AI and asked, 'Did you write this?' and apparently he failed his entire class because Chat GPT lied and said, 'Yes, I wrote that'. So we've still got to troubleshoot technology. We're going to have problems. But who can tell is AI wrote it or is generating it? The only one that has a chance is AI itself. So there's going to be a rush of tools - all the software that runs in trading desks, financial management, servers, fund managers - all those things are going to have to have some AI element. I don't think we have to invent a lot, and it's pretty obvious what we have to do. It's about adopting what we've got today and figuring out how to stop people from being lazy and using LastPass and other things like that.

I've become known as the 'I told you so' guy.

Are we right in thinking you're not anti-technology?

I feel like I've been beaten into submission by technology. My number one concern is people, information and knowledge. Everything new that comes out, everyone trumpets how amazing it is, but there's no one talking about how bad it is. I am Chicken Little. Like, 'The sky is falling! The sky is falling!' but everyone else is going, 'But the sky is awesome!' And then it hails, and things get damaged, and they look at me and go, 'Why didn't you tell us?'. And I'm like, 'Did you read the minutes from the meeting two years ago?' The amount of briefings I do, I'm embedding myself as the 'I told you so' guy.

Australia is the number one target for scams because we are the people that are just very relaxed.

Why do people get so excited by technology that can be used nefariously so easily?

I think, in general, people are optimistic. And in some ways, that's a good thing. In America, if you leave a backpack near a bus station, train station or in the airport and walk away from it, alarms are raised in seconds. In Australia, we're the country of 'she'll be alright mate'. And I think that's one of the reasons that Australia is a number one target for scams because we are the people that are just very relaxed. We're barely learning the physical - maybe we should lock our door - much less digital security. It's going to be an interesting journey. Cyber is one of the first global problems Governments can't do much about. AI is digital. It's online. You can download it and run it on your computer. You can stop a lot of physical things, but you can't stop it when the people themselves can do it.

There's so much beyond a firewall and keeping your password safe these days.

It's the toilet paper syndrome, which just proves how stupid we are.

Is AI going to steal our jobs?

Yes. It's going straight for the jugular of accountants and technical roles but also for something we didn't expect - the jobs of authors, poets, and painters. It's the toilet paper syndrome, which proves how stupid we are. When we hear toilet paper is running out at the supermarket, we rush out and get a whole pile of it, and suddenly, the fulfilment of fear becomes a reality with entire supermarkets stripped of toilet paper. That's what's happening with AI right now. We can see AI doing a lot of damage to potentially a lot of things, so we have accelerated the deployment of AI quickly. I can't digest how fast things are changing. We'll lose lots of jobs, sure, but it's also going to create lots of jobs and new industries. There are going to be things coming in that will give us knowledge and insight in ways that people haven't factored in yet.

AI in the financial world is going to be very interesting.

How do you see AI being used in financial services?

I don't know if you've seen something called Soul Machines from New Zealand. You need to see Soul Machines - banks are already using it. There are micro-expressions where we can tell if people are lying. Even trained professionals only see 5% of actual things. Now I could actually have some digital glasses that could help me see whether you are annoyed, getting frustrated at me, lying and things like that. That's now software that the computer can use. ANZ Bank in New Zealand is using it. You could have an online interview with an avatar, and not only is it interviewing you in the same way, but they're asking you questions designed to elicit certain kinds of answers. It may know that you've lied about how long you were at that job. Did you enjoy your time on the job? And you're like, Oh yeah, it was great, and it's recording in the background, blah, blah, blah. Lied, lied, lied, lied. So that takes psychology, financial services and AI and brings these things together. But in the financial world, it's going to be very interesting. It's going to be very useful.

Mom and Pop financial advisers aren't going to be able to afford access to the same AI as the bigger firms.

Do you think companies should embrace AI?

We've got two ways we can go with this world. Just like we're going through the whole green thing with companies, I've got a feeling that companies will come out going, 'We're authentic financial services. We don't use AI.' I would not use that company. I am pretty sure there are going to be scenarios that require AI. I saw a video where someone said, 'Oh, we'll have the new AI robo-adviser equivalent. That's what we'll give our normal customers, but if they're VIPs we'll give them a human. That should be the other way around. The AI is going to respond to market changes faster. Humans have to read briefings and do their research. So the financial services world needs to adopt, but need to be careful. I do worry about the size of town because the mom and pop financial advisers aren't going to be able to afford access to the same AI as the bigger firms.

Let's say I could create an AI George Soros - not only every trade he's ever done but his entire life.

What excites you about AI and the future?

Jordan Peterson has an AI of himself and he is feeding in every podcast and lecture he's ever done. And I was like, okay, let's say I can create an AI George Soros. Not only every trade he's ever done fed into the AI, but his entire life. The things that influenced him, what was on the news or TV of the day and where he was. So even when he's passed, you could have a George Soros, an Elon Musk, an Einstein, essentially a replica of them and their life experiences. People say they don't want to use AI for their trades, but when it's Warren Buffett in 20 years' time after he's been dead for 15 years, you could be making trades and decisions just like him. So that's going to be interesting. There are going to be amazing traders that die, just like movie actors, that we'll be able to put back into service and go, 'We are still run by the advice of George Soros II'. And that excites me in an interesting way.

The last word...

What advice do you have for the financial services industry?

Pay attention. You can't possibly watch all the videos that are coming out about AI every day, so find your trustworthy news source that gleans off the top 10% of the information. Know what's going on. Look very closely at the documents that come out about products - the new blah, blah, blah AI managed fund. These things will start to appear very soon.

Thanks to Skeeve for joining us on the Upfront podcast. Listen to this fascinating conversation in full here or wherever you get your podcasts.

About Skeeve

Skeeve is an extremely technical Futurist. A former Network Architect, Cisco/Juniper/RedHat Engineer and more. He's designed many platforms and built the networks of many ISPs in AsiaPac region. A former Director of the Internet Society of Australia and former Chair of the Policy Committee of APNIC (Internet Gov), he currently specialises in Security & Intelligence for Military, Policing & Security organisations, focusing on abuse of cutting-edge technology such as AI, IoT, robotics and more. He's also director of the Future Crime Agency.