May 17, 2024 - Technology

Artificial intelligence experts are under cyberattack

Illustration of an office chair pierced by multiple computer cursors.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A Chinese-speaking hacking group is targeting individuals tied to a U.S. artificial intelligence company in an ongoing phishing attack, researchers at Proofpoint said Thursday.

Why it matters: AI operators have become prime targets for hackers looking to steal trade secrets as the U.S. and China continue to battle for AI dominance.

Zoom in: Fewer than 10 individuals tied to the same "leading U.S.-based artificial intelligence organization" received a phishing email this month aimed at deploying trojan malware onto their devices, according to Proofpoint's report.

  • The hacking group used a free email account to send an AI-themed lure that tried to get recipients to download a malware-laced zip file.
  • Attackers pretended to be a user reporting problems with an AI tool they were using for work, and claimed they had more details about the issue in the attached file.
  • The malware in the zip file is nearly identical to the malicious files seen in another scheme that Cisco discovered in November that targeted people in Central and East Asia.

Yes, but: Proofpoint did not name the U.S. company where the targeted experts work.

The big picture: It's rare to see a phishing campaign be as precise and limited as the one Proofpoint uncovered — underscoring the heightened insider threats facing U.S. AI companies.

  • Not only are AI operators dealing with run-of-the-mill cyber threats like phishing, but they're also contending with a range of insider threats, including nation-state spies and employees who may be duped into sharing secrets.
  • AI firms are paying attention: Last week, OpenAI listed a role for an insider risk investigator.
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