Autonomous agents to enhance cyber defence
Cyber resilience is thus a key requirement for autonomous systems in general, and in the defence domain in particular.
On the other hand, autonomous agents – specialised digital artefacts – are increasingly used to enhance cyber defence and, many experts believe, they will even become irreplaceable in the future.
Some autonomous cyber defence tools using intelligent agents already exist today, monitoring network activities and ready to trigger immediate action when anomalous behaviour is detected. Early malware detection, crucial for cyber risk mitigation, is considered a high-potential activity in which autonomous systems shaped like intelligent agents deployed in cyberspace could excel in the future. The advantage is to provide a prompt response to achieve an agile secure architecture of the network.
That being said, more research and development work needs to be done to optimise the use of autonomous cyber tools in the future.
First and foremost, there is still a lack of unbiased datasets required for autonomous systems which need data sets to learn to adapt their behaviour. Indeed, the quality and efficiency of autonomous cyber protection systems rely on the type of programming and training which are installed on them prior to their deployment. Despite years of research into AI, generating an ‘unbiased’ training dataset is still a major challenge. Consequently, the performance of autonomous agents is in direct proportion to the data they are fed with. This lack of data becomes of even greater concern when it comes to military applications because generating data sets deemed accurate enough to represent realistic warfare scenarios is an even more complex undertaking.
In addition to that, there are numerous other technological, procedural and human related challenges to overcome. Take, for instance, the learning aspect. “The growing use of autonomous systems by Armed Forces automatically puts a stronger emphasis on human-machine teaming”, underlines Salvador Llopis Sanchez. Operators and military commanders will therefore need to understand and come to terms with the restricted influence they will have on the course of action in operations, especially in situations where human intervention is reduced to a minimum.
It is therefore essential to make sure military commanders decide in advance on the level of autonomy they are willing (or can afford) to accept, as part of the concept of operations. Whatever decision is taken, the military commander should always maintain the option to intervene during an operation to change (upgrade or degrade) autonomous functionalities in line with the previously agreed mission objectives.
Cyber-supported situational awareness
Situational awareness is required to take decisions in real time. “Cyber-supported autonomous systems could become paramount to provide this enhanced situational awareness”, says Salvador Llopis Sanchez. In the future, we might see autonomous systems react to unpredicted scenarios (such as degraded or contested electromagnetic environments) and automatically apply ‘spread spectrum’ techniques. Due to the increased data flows coming from remote sensors (belonging to what could be defined as the ‘Defence Internet of Things’), massive amounts of data must be filtered and processed to provide actionable information.