Padlock coming out of a computer monitor, surrounded by circuitry
Image generated with assistance from DALL-E.

The nexus of AI and cybersecurity risk in marketing and communications

Much like the pairing of cybersecurity and technology, the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) into marketing and communications has been revolutionary. As a powerful and evolving tool, AI holds unprecedented potential to advance our profession — from enhancing the ability to connect with target audiences and uncover data insights, to fast-tracking the creation of persuasive messaging and streamlining routine work. But with this transformative technology comes immense security risk, requiring vigilance and a balanced approach. 

On the marketing front, AI has been nothing short of a game-changer. This year has seen impressive advancements in Generative AI in the form of Chatbots and virtual assistants that have taken customer service to the next level, providing rapid, personalized interactions at scale. Sophisticated Predictive AI systems continue to evolve, enabling granular insights into consumer behavior through big data analysis and allowing marketers to deliver hyper-targeted and customized experiences like never before. Additionally, AI has automated tedious tasks like content distribution, social media management and email marketing, allowing marketing professionals to focus their efforts on more strategic, creative work. 

Surveys consistently show that customers are more satisfied and loyal thanks to the personalized service and engagement enabled by AI tools. Marketing teams can devote their human talents to high-value work that machines can’t match — like strategy, ideation and innovation. The same can be said on the communications side. 

For communicators, AI content tools can generate first drafts of press releases, website copy and social media posts tailored to resonate with targeted audiences. In fact, AI helped me quickly research the latest headlines on this very topic. By synthesizing vast troves of data, AI gives communications teams powerful insights to inform strategic messaging and outreach. Through AI, communicators have a plethora of possibilities to thrive in the digital age.  

As we usher in this new era of AI, the need for effective and efficient security guardrails is paramount. As AI systems ingest enormous datasets on customer and public activity, they inherently create tempting targets for data breaches and cyberattacks. There are also risks of biases in algorithmic systems, privacy violations due to opaque data practices and AI-generated misinformation — a growing trend producing concerning results. Sufficient oversight and precaution must be in place to prevent the demise of public trust. 

AI has created a treasure trove for threat actors, as they thrive on exploiting holes in data security to access enormous amounts of customer data which could then be used to craft hyper-targeted phishing emails and social engineering scams that credibly impersonate brands. Attackers may also leverage AI to generate incredibly realistic deepfakes — manipulated audio, video or images — designed to deceive the public and cause reputational damage. 

Even more insidiously, adversaries and nation-states could “poison” certain AI models by introducing carefully crafted but biased training data. This data alters the model’s learning and outputs in a way that benefits the attacker’s aims. For example, a compromised content recommendation algorithm may start promoting misinformation or biased political messaging. 

So, how can marketing and communications professionals harness AI’s immense potential while steering clear of its pitfalls? A multi-layered approach is essential. First and foremost, rigorous data security protections like encryption, access controls and routine audits are crucial to safeguarding customer data during breaches. Ethical AI practices must also be baked into processes from the start, such as bias testing and ensuring transparency in data usage and algorithmic decision-making. 

Just like practicing good cyber hygiene, ongoing training and education helps security teams spot phishing attempts, identify manipulated content and recognize other emerging AI threats. Investing in cutting-edge AI cybersecurity tools provides additional monitoring and defense. It’s vital to cultivate a vigilant, proactive culture focused on accountability and transparency. Cyber risks and ethical concerns must be openly acknowledged and addressed through collective diligence. 

Balancing innovation with security will be the cornerstone of success in the AI-driven marketing and communications landscape. This is an opportunity like no other to bridge ethical innovation with the age of artificial intelligence. While we can’t let AI determine our future, we can set the precedent for the role it will play, and work to safeguard our organizations along the way.

Heather Rim is chief marketing officer for Optiv, where she leads all aspects of marketing and communications to accelerate brand visibility, drive demand generation and inspire stakeholder engagement. She previously held senior corporate communications, marketing and investor relations roles at companies including AECOM, Avery Dennison, The Walt Disney Company and WellPoint. She is a member of the USC Center for PR board of advisers.