The global ransomware scourge is poised to worsen over the next two years, fueled by artificial intelligence that makes cyber attacks more effective, according to a new report from Britain’s cybersecurity chiefs.

The National Cyber Security Centre, part of the UK’s top signals intelligence agency GCHQ, warns that AI will enable even novice hackers to carry out more damaging cyber intrusions to extort businesses and organizations. By automating tasks and better identifying potential targets, AI can supercharge the ransomware threat.

AI services lower barriers to entry, increasing the number of cyber criminals, and will boost their capability by improving the scale, speed and effectiveness of existing attack methods” warns the National Crime Agency.

Ransomware already poses an urgent danger, crippling hospitals, schools, critical infrastructure and enterprises worldwide. The criminal business model is well-entrenched and unlikely to be replaced soon due to its immense profitability.

AI threatens to make the attacks faster, more precise and able to infect more systems before detection. The technology could also generate persuasive spear-phishing emails and identify vulnerable victims through mass data collection and analysis.

The British agencies say cyber defenders can also utilize AI to bolster their defenses. The technology can automatically detect intrusions, analyze threats and filter out malicious messages. But the report makes clear that AI in the hands of cybercriminals now poses serious near-term risks that could inflict widespread economic and social damage.

Organizations urgently need to adopt best practices in cyber hygiene and build resilience against data-encrypting malware. Server administrators are advised to keep applications, Azure, and Exchange Servers patched & monitored.

Time to React is crucial

When a server is compromised by a cyber attack, time is of the essence in responding. The faster a breach can be detected and containment actions taken, the less damage the attackers can inflict. Every minute that passes allows adversaries to further infiltrate systems, escalate privileges, and quietly expand their access.

Security analysts suggest compromised servers are leveraged in under 90 minutes. Messageware Z-Day Guard catches changes to your server baseline instantly, and sends you alerts to respond long before this threat window closes.

Protect your Microsoft Exchange Servers from zero-day attacks with Next-Generation threat hunting: