Ajay Bhalla, President, Cyber & Intelligence, Mastercard.
2020 saw the world move irreversibly toward digital. How we shop, pay and interact have all changed — at first out of necessity, but now those advances are here to stay. This digitalization is not a new trend, but one that accelerated far quicker this past year than anyone could have predicted. In fact, at the beginning of the global lockdown — with businesses facilitating widespread working from home and people reliant on online grocery shopping or video calls to connect with colleagues and family— we vaulted five years forward in digital adoption in just eight weeks.
This digital shift has huge potential to solve some of the world’s biggest challenges. However, it is not without risks. While we are all more connected than ever before, so are hackers and fraudsters, who are continually developing more advanced and sophisticated techniques to breach security defenses.
Technology at NuData, a Mastercard company, detected that in the first six months of 2020, 96% of login attacks launched on financial organizations were considered to be sophisticated, meaning they replicated human interaction.
This calls for a new approach to securing our digital environment.
The Evolving Ecosystem
By 2027, digital commerce transaction values will reach over $18 trillion, while digital transaction fraud will climb 130% between 2020 and 2024. But the impact of these attacks can go beyond that immediate financial loss, potentially damaging reputation, consumer confidence and trust.
It is no longer sufficient to simply secure every transaction — now we must build trust in every interaction and protect the entire cyber environment. This hyperconnectivity has changed the cyber landscape, and also exposed businesses to increased risk via their third-party relationships. You are only as strong as the weakest link in your chain. Supporting the security of the payments network and the entire cyber ecosystem is nothing short of essential for the survival of the global economy.
The AI Edge In The Cyber Battle
In the fight against cybercrime, we have to stay one step ahead of criminals. After all, to breach a business, they only have to break through once — we have to be successful in our defense every time. Today, that means a growing need to predict and prevent fraud and money laundering at multiple junctures: When an account is being created, when a person is logging into their account or when a payment is being initiated.
This has been brought to life over the last 12 months, as we have seen AI in action across our network at Mastercard, which handles 75 billion transactions every year for 2.5 billion cards across 210 countries and territories. At its most basic, AI helps combat cybercrime by identifying and alerting us to deviations from the norm, such as suspicious transactions or account activity. With AI, we can do this far more intelligently and, crucially, continuously in real time.
Contactless payments are a prime example of this, with AI constantly working in the background to check and validate every transaction before it’s approved, examining how a specific account is used over time to detect normal and abnormal spending behaviors.
The Challenges Still To Come
Businesses must be able to see beyond their own four walls, to provide safety and assurance to their customers and partners, meet their regulatory obligations and prevent hundreds of millions of dollars in potential fraud. AI does — and will continue to — play a crucial role here.
But as fast as security solutions evolve, so too do the nature and complexity of the threat. To keep pace, we must continually evolve and enhance the protection of whole cyber environments. This will require new levels of close collaboration across government and industry, as well as the establishment of rigorous industry standards.
And there will be further challenges and opportunities to come as the world recovers from the pandemic, as 5G begins to unlock bandwidth and connectivity, and with the potential for quantum computing to transform the fundamentals of digital transactions once it emerges. What will be constant is the need for AI to secure that rapidly evolving digital ecosystem.
The Business Imperative
In short, cybercrime is one of the biggest global threats to consumer trust. To survive and thrive, it is vital that organizations understand the cyber landscape, prioritize efforts to fix and protect their entire cyber-risk exposure, and can do the same for their customers, suppliers and digital partners.
Then, together, we can deliver a safe and prosperous digital ecosystem for all.
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