Using AI Safely: Best Practices for Protecting Your Data

An AI robot with headphones in front of a laptop with a chat bubble above its head

Artificial intelligence's transformative impact on business gained even more attention this year with the generative AI boom in early 2023 after the release of ChatGPT. People are fascinated by its potential to reshape how we work. From copywriting and customer service to virtual assistance and data analysis, artificial intelligence is becoming capable of addressing a wide range of business challenges.

Businesses are rushing to adopt AI solutions to increase efficiency and improve employee workflow to keep up with the rapid advancements. A recent Cisco study showed that 97% of people felt their companies faced growing internal pressure to implement AI technology in the workplace over the previous six-month period. 61% of respondents believed that if their companies failed to act, they would fall behind and suffer.

However, although businesses are eager to use AI for its benefits, they must also remember to protect their data while pursuing innovation. That same Cisco report shows that roughly 68% of respondents feel their companies aren't fully equipped to detect and thwart AI-related cyber attacks.

Below, you'll discover the best practices your organization can implement to continue adopting AI technology while your vital digital assets stay safe.

Understanding the AI Landscape

By now, we have all encountered artificial intelligence in many aspects of our daily lives - whether in our social media feeds, search engines, smart assistants, or navigational systems. But what is it exactly? 

At its core, artificial intelligence is a type of technology that can mimic human intelligence in how it performs its tasks and executes its functions. These include recognizing patterns, generating predictions, solving problems, and making its own decisions without human input.

Natural language processing (NLP) is an integral part of AI. It allows computer programs to understand and interpret human communication, such as text and speech, in relevant ways for the user interacting with the system. With sufficient natural language processing capabilities, a computer program can almost instantaneously understand how humans structure and form a word, the word’s role in a sentence, and even the emotion behind the word’s use.

Developers train the system using large datasets for artificial intelligence programs to be effective and efficient. They develop algorithms that incorporate machine learning, capable of absorbing knowledge from previous actions to improve performance over time. With more data, the computer program can learn from a broader range of patterns and features, ensuring it can handle complex tasks and improve accuracy.

Key Risks of AI in Data Security

Despite the potential for positive transformative change, it's essential to recognize the many risks involved when combining our data with AI technology.

While machines are supposed to be neutral, the people inputting the data to train an AI program can influence it with their human flaws. For example, organizations often use artificial intelligence in recruitment, to speed up the work involved in sourcing new employees. In this case, the algorithm's bias may affect hiring decisions if the inputted data isn't entirely representative and comprehensive, leading to potential unfair workplace practices and legal ramifications for the organization.

While large datasets are crucial for effective machine learning, many individuals want more transparency about where the data comes from and want to ensure that the data's original creators can consent and receive compensation. Several authors recently launched a class-action lawsuit against ChatGPT for using their work without permission to train its algorithm.

Your organization's risks with AI go beyond ethical implications such as potential plagiarism and piracy. Organizations risk disclosing confidential information to unauthorized individuals once they put their data into the system. This example happened last year when a ChatGPT bug exposed user data

Bad faith users can use AI tools to breach your system, tricking the program into performing actions such as unauthorized transactions. In a recent Sapio Research study, 75% of security professionals observed a surge of cyberattacks in the last year, with 85% linking generative AI as the primary driver behind this increase. 

Cybercriminals may also use AI model theft and tampering to manipulate input data and deceive the system's decision-making process. This risk impacts the tool's ability to function correctly, which will impede your productivity significantly if you rely on it for your operations.

Beyond affecting individual customer trust, these incidents may cause an organization to break data privacy laws and regulations like the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), leading to more wide-scale financial loss and legal implications.

Best Practices for Embracing AI Safety

To address the challenges and risks of integrating AI into your work, your organization must develop solid strategies for responsible and secure deployment. Luckily, when you follow these best practices to shape your approach, you can still harness the benefits of AI and keep up with evolving industry standards of workplace technology. 

Focus on Data Governance and Compliance

When developing AI strategies, it's critical first to determine which data privacy regulations apply to your organization. Then, you need to implement tactics to meet these regulations' requirements. At the bare minimum, you’ll likely need to focus on establishing:

  • Mechanisms for gaining customer consent around data use
  • Policies for how to transparently disclose your practices around handling data
  • Methods of encrypting certain types of customer data, as well as anonymizing data when required

You should also regularly audit your data governance policies to spot weaknesses and vulnerabilities and update organizational practices to ensure they reflect current expectations.

Prioritize Employee Training and Awareness

Your organization can help secure digital assets by empowering your team to manage risk using innovative internet-based technologies like artificial intelligence. 

Business leaders need to help foster a culture of security awareness where employees understand the potential threats they can encounter when incorporating AI tools into their tasks. You can accomplish this by:

  • Conducting regular training on responsible AI use, as well as helping your team understand how they can use AI in their specific functions
  • Establishing guidelines around data disclosure on the platform, fact-checking information sourced from generative AI platforms, and other ethical usage considerations
  • Defining a policy to clearly outline employee roles and responsibilities in maintaining AI security, whether around access control and authentication, data handling, incident reporting, documentation, etc.

Partner with Trusted AI Vendors

Let’s say you want to go beyond using free online generative AI tools and invest in more robust AI solutions in your workplace. In that case, you must select a vendor that aligns with your business goals and technical requirements. 

Selecting a trusted AI vendor will be vital to maintaining strong security throughout the process. You should start by defining the business problem you want to solve. Then, look for a vendor who meets your needs - even better if they can customize their model to work within your objectives.

Then, ask yourself:

  • Firstly, is the AI tool's interface user-friendly, or will there be a steep learning curve for my team to adopt it into their workflow?
  • Can the vendor offer a tool with strong cybersecurity features that is scalable and capable of handling growing volumes of data and resources without degrading performance?
  • Do they have significant expertise and experience working with artificial intelligence and machine learning, and have they engaged in substantial research and development to create their product?
  • Can the AI tool seamlessly integrate with my existing infrastructure and be compatible and interoperable with my current protective measures?

Implement a Layered Security Approach

Protecting data when your organization uses artificial intelligence tools is more than finding a solution with robust cybersecurity features. You can't rely on just one security measure to safeguard your organization.  

You need to fortify your defenses at multiple levels, combining physical, digital, and administrative security controls to ensure you can prevent threats across various points of vulnerability.  

You must develop strategies for preventing cyberattacks and mitigating the damage they cause if a hacker successfully breaches your system. Techniques can include implementing measures like identity control and data destruction policies, continuous monitoring, and creating incident response and recovery plans. 

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) framework offers a ready-made roadmap for executing this, outlining the essential building blocks for a strong cybersecurity framework.

Future-proof Your Organization With Our Cybersecurity Experts

Remember, while embracing innovative technologies like artificial intelligence is essential for organizations to stay competitive, you need to prioritize data security while doing it. When your organization builds an AI strategy that centers around your data governance requirements, you’re more likely to use the technology responsibly from the start. 

When you pair that with educating your team on responsible use, sourcing reliable AI vendors, and implementing a layered security approach, you can better guarantee that your AI deployment will successfully meet your business goals without sacrificing privacy and safety.

When you partner with designDATA for your IT needs, our experts will help you procure the right AI solutions to increase productivity and security. We also focus heavily on employee empowerment, providing staff training to ensure your employees have the skills to use your technology with proficiency and without increasing risk. 

Want even more guidance on how to use AI effectively? Watch our three exclusive training videos on elevating your productivity through artificial intelligence.


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