As Feds get smarter about Artificial Intelligence on the cyber frontier, seems agencies’ IT defenders are suffering from schizophrenia about cyber cyborgs. That’s the topline takeaway from the new MeriTalk “Federal Cyber AI IQ Test” study. Where 90 percent of cyber folks swoon about AI as the fix for the cyber sieve, almost half of Feds suffer AI anxiety disorder. With the exponential increase in cyber attacks and insider-threat nightmares, now’s a fascinating time to consider AI’s role in cybersecurity. We see Kevin Cox and the CDM program office exploring AI–and every cyber vendor’s touting its new AI pixie dust. So, what’s the state of Fed’s AI IQ–and what’ the path forward?

Batman & Robin?

Clearly Feds recognize the challenges associated with Uncle Sam’s thin-blue line on the cyber frontier. An overwhelming majority view AI as the perfect Robin to cyber defender’s Batman–87 percent of Feds assert that AI will improve the efficiency of the cybersecurity workforce. Drilling down, 91 percent see a place for AI helping to monitor human activity and warding off insider threats. Looking into a crystal ball, Feds estimate that in five years AI could help detect an average of 44% of cybersecurity breaches or hacking attempts.

Low Cyber AI IQ?

So let’s double back–and deal with an enigma in the study–how can 90 percent of Feds dig AI, but half of them express concern about the risks? Is this evidence of low cyber AI IQ or does it mean Feds are losing it? Au contraire, this indicates pensive excitement. Who hasn’t felt bullish about a new adventure, but also a little frightened? I always feel that way when embarking on my most exciting new journeys. Did you ever fall in love? Interesting to observe that 48 percent of Feds are afraid to lead the pack on AI cyber deployment–expressing concern about being the first to install AI on the front lines. And, just 21 percent say that they are “very comfortable” with their agency enlisting AI for cybersecurity today.

Where to Deploy AI?

Okay, that behind us, let’s proceed. If AI is OK, where should we put it to work? Yes, that’s cyber–59 percent of Feds see this as the first place to fall in love. But cyber’s not the only AI suitor–with 45 percent of Feds attracted to AI to support data analytics, 31 percent fraud detection, and 26 percent risk management.

But cyber’s a broad church. Where will we see AI first in Federal cyber defense? Seventy percent of Feds say detecting breaches and hacking attempts. Sixty four percent calls to deploy AI to predict threats, 51 percent will put it to work to uncover new patterns, and 46 percent want AI to support enhanced cyber-attack training.

Human Touch?

Of course the elephant in the room on AI is always people or processors–will AI cost human jobs? Feds tell us the opposite is true–with the majority telling us that it will add jobs to the Federal workforce rather than cut them back. Feds predict that AI will augment cyber defenders, allowing agencies to react more quickly to threats. They tell us these new advanced capabilities will give Federal cyber workers more time for advanced investigations, as well as improve strategic planning and scenario-based training.

For the dismount, the study finds Feds up on AI in cyber–but anxious to be the first through the door. You can guarantee Fed’s Cyber AI IQ will continue to rise as this IT magic enters the mainstream. Interesting insights for Kevin Cox and the CDM program office as they ready to roll out new automation and AI capabilities in CDM Phase III and IV.

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Steve O'Keeffe
Steve O'Keeffe
The most connected executive in the government technology community – O'Keeffe is an accomplished entrepreneur and tech-policy expert, with 30 years’ experience as an innovator at the crossroads of government and industry. He founded MeriTalk, O'Keeffe & Company, 300Brand, among other entities. O'Keeffe is a fixture on the Hill, in both the House and Senate, testifying on IT, budget, government workforce, and the requirement to modernize government IT to enhance outcomes for the American people and government employees. He is a champion for change, simplification, transparency, and clear communication of IT value without jargon. A committed philanthropist, O'Keeffe has served for 15 years on the USO-Metro Board of Directors – Vice Chairman of the Board and Chair of the Annual Awards Dinner. He started his career as a journalist – O'Keeffe has contributed to The Economist, Government Executive, Signal Magazine, The Washington Post, and, of course, MeriTalk.