Jan 3, 2023 - Technology

Hackers could get help from the new AI chatbot

Illustration of a fish hook surrounded by multiple cursors

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The AI-enabled chatbot that's been wowing the tech community can also be manipulated to help cybercriminals perfect their attack strategies.

Why it matters: The arrival of OpenAI's ChatGPT tool last month could allow scammers behind email and text-based phishing attacks, as well as malware groups, to speed up the development of their schemes.

  • Several cybersecurity researchers have been able to get the AI-enabled text generator to write phishing emails or even malicious code for them in recent weeks.

The big picture: Malicious hackers were already getting scarily good at incorporating more humanlike and difficult-to-detect tactics into their attacks before ChatGPT entered the scene.

How it works: ChatGPT speeds up the process for hackers by giving them a launching pad — though the responses aren't always perfect.

  • Researchers at Check Point Research last month said they got a "plausible phishing email" from ChatGPT after directly asking the chatbot to "write a phishing email" that comes from a "fictional web-hosting service."
  • Researchers at Abnormal Security took a less direct approach, asking ChatGPT to write an email "that has a high likelihood of getting the recipient to click on a link."

The intrigue: While OpenAI has implemented a few content moderation warnings into the chatbot, researchers are finding it easy to side-step the current system and avoid penalties.

  • In Check Point Research's example, ChatGPT only gave the researchers a warning saying this "may violate our content policy" — but it still shared a response.
  • The Abnormal Security researchers' questions weren't flagged since they didn't explicitly ask ChatGPT to participate in a crime.

Yes, but: Users still need to have a basic knowledge of coding and launching attacks to understand what ChatGPT gets right and what needs to be tweaked.

  • When writing code, some researchers have found they've needed to prompt ChatGPT to correct lines or other errors they've spotted.
  • An OpenAI spokesperson told Axios that ChatGPT is currently a research preview, and the organization is constantly looking at ways to improve the product to avoid abuse.

Between the lines: Organizations were already struggling to fend off the most basic of attacks — including those in which hackers use a stolen password leaked online to log in to accounts. AI-enabled tools like ChatGPT could just exacerbate the problem.

The bottom line: Network defenders and IT teams need to double down on efforts to detect phishing emails and text messages to stop these types of attacks in their tracks.

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