The Role of Cyber, AI and Public-Private Partnerships in Protecting Our National Security: Key Takeaways from SXSW 2022

March 24, 2022

At SXSW 2022, I had the privilege of moderating the panel, “Global Competition: The Rise of AI in the Cyber Domain,” featuring insights from Optiv CEO Kevin Lynch, retired Army Lt. Gen. Stephen M. Twitty, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Simone Ledeen.


Here are some of the key takeaways from this event.


How can the cyber security & defense industry partner with leaders to protect companies and their people in the age of “informationized warfare?”


Of course, at the top of everyone’s minds are China and Russia – as they are rapidly gaining status as competitors of the United States in the commercial and national security applications of AI. In an age where foreign actors are increasingly using cyberattacks to take down both commercial and government targets - crippling a country’s ability to act quickly - we explored how AI will shape the future of conflict across the cyber domain.


As Simone Ledeen mentioned, “AI is making decision-makers uncomfortable. We’re used to leaders going through many layers of approval; at the time of decision, the question is no longer relevant. AI tools help us make quicker decisions, especially in cyberwarfare.”


AI is essential for any company that wants to grow into the next generation. One analysis* forecasts total global AI spending to top $190B by 2025, up from $21.36B in 2018, and in McKinsey’s State of AI report in 2020, 58% of respondents have adopted AI in at least one phase of their business.


AI and machine learning are already being leveraged for some important cyber defense tasks. For example, better predictive analysis as AI defenses onboard more data about existing and emerging attacks and an ability to comb through data across various layers of technology to more quickly predict and identify threats, prioritizing which threats to mitigate first.


However, Stephen M. Twitty did mention he doesn’t ever see AI replacing humans making decisions when it comes to warfare: “Warfare is an extremely human thing – AI will just be an enhancement.”


On the flip side, hackers are also leveraging AI as an attack tool. Weaponizing malware, concealing malicious code, triggering attacks at a certain time, modeling and developing more adaptable attack techniques, and more.



Collaboration is key

Everyone is writing their own scripts on how to deal with the same threat is equivalent to every single building hiring and managing its own unique fire department. It just doesn’t make sense. We must have a notion of collective defense. Optiv CEO Kevin Lynch said during the panel, “A collective defense is our only viable option. It’s imperative to have public-private partnerships to fight this growing issue.”


Attackers have created their own criminal ecosystem in which they do a spectacular job sharing information, resources and expertise. If our adversaries have a strategy of collaboration, we must also forge a highly functional cyber defense ecosystem that encompasses government and all public and private sector organizations to match the criminal ecosystem we’re facing every day.


You have to start somewhere. One small, but powerful step in the right direction is mandating legislation for basic standards like two-factor authentication. Some other ways to encourage a collective defense could include cyber credits, information sharing with law enforcement agencies, etc.


As I think back on my experience at SXSW, I feel privileged to have heard some of our country’s foremost thought leaders sharing their perspective on how technology is shaping the future. I look forward to continuing these conversations with the broader defense and space industry – seeing how we can collaborate to improve our nation’s defenses within the cyber and space domains.



Nycki Brooks
Director Federal Service | Optiv
Nycki Brooks is a decorated, 32-year Army veteran and oversees the full suite of security services capabilities for Optiv’s federal business. She most recently served as the director of intelligence for the Army Futures Command where she was responsible for the strategic management of intelligence and security support.

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