Will LLM and Generative AI Solve a 20-Year-Old Problem in Application Security?


In the ever-evolving landscape of cybersecurity, staying one step ahead of malicious actors is a constant challenge. For the past two decades, the problem of application security has persisted, with traditional methods often falling short in detecting and mitigating emerging threats. However, a promising new technology, Generative AI (GenAI), is poised to revolutionize the field. In this article, we will explore how Generative AI is relevant to security, why it addresses long-standing challenges that previous approaches couldn’t solve, the potential disruptions it can bring to the security ecosystem, and how it differs from older Machine Learning (ML) models.

Why the Problem Requires New Tech

The problem of application security is multi-faceted and complex. Traditional security measures have primarily relied on pattern matching, signature-based detection, and rule-based approaches. While effective in simple cases, these methods struggle to address the creative ways developers write code and configure systems. Modern adversaries constantly evolve their attack techniques, widen the attack surface, and render pattern matching insufficient in safeguarding against emerging risks. This necessitates a paradigm shift in security approaches, and Generative AI holds a possible key to tackling these challenges.

The Magic of LLM in Security

Generative AI is an advancement over older models used in machine learning algorithms that were great at classifying or clustering data based on trained learning of synthetic samples. The modern LLMs are trained on millions of examples from big code repositories, (e.g., GitHub) that are partially tagged for security issues. By learning from vast amounts of data, modern LLM models can understand the underlying patterns, structures, and relationships within application code and environment, enabling them to identify potential vulnerabilities and predict attack vectors given the right inputs and priming.

Another great advancement is the ability to generate realistic fix samples that can help developers understand the root cause and solve issues faster, especially in complex organizations where security professionals are organizationally siloed and overloaded.

Coming Disruptions Enabled by GenAI

Generative AI has the potential to disrupt the application security ecosystem in several ways:

Automated Vulnerability Detection: Traditional vulnerability scanning tools often rely on manual rule definition or limited pattern matching. Generative AI can automate the process by learning from extensive code repositories and generating synthetic samples to identify vulnerabilities, reducing the time and effort required for manual analysis.

Adversarial Attack Simulation: Security testing typically involves simulating attacks to identify weak points in an application. Generative AI can generate realistic attack scenarios, including sophisticated, multi-step attacks, allowing organizations to strengthen their defenses against real-world threats. A great example is “BurpGPT”, a combination of GPT and Burp, which helps detect dynamic security issues.

Intelligent Patch Generation: Generating effective patches for vulnerabilities is a complex task. Generative AI can analyze existing codebases and generate patches that address specific vulnerabilities, saving time and minimizing human error in the patch development process.

While these kinds of fixes were traditionally rejected by the industry, the combination of automated code fixes and the ability to generate tests by GenAI might be a great way for the industry to push boundaries to new levels.

Enhanced Threat Intelligence: Generative AI can analyze large volumes of security-related data, including vulnerability reports, attack patterns, and malware samples. GenAI can significantly enhance threat intelligence capabilities by generating insights and identifying emerging trends from an initial indication to a real actionable playbook, enabling proactive defense strategies.

The Future Of LLM and Application Security

LLMs still have gaps in achieving perfect application security due to their limited contextual understanding, incomplete code coverage, lack of real-time assessment, and the absence of domain-specific knowledge. To address these gaps over the coming years, a probable solution will have to combine LLM approaches with dedicated security tools, external enrichment sources, and scanners. Ongoing advancements in AI and security will help bridge these gaps.

In general, if you have a larger dataset, you can create a more accurate LLM. This is the same for code, so when we have more code in the same language, we will be able to use it to create better LLMs, which will in turn drive better code generation and security moving forward.

We anticipate that in the upcoming years, we will witness advancements in LLM technology, including the ability to utilize larger token sizes, which holds great potential to further improve AI-based cybersecurity in significant ways.

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