Conversational AI Chatbot Security – What You Need To Know

By Rachana Chotia / In Conversational AI / April 19, 2021 / 8 Mins read

Are you considering using a conversational chatbot for your customer support? In this post, we’ll help you understand some security risk associated with them and important countermeasures to tackle them.

From Siri to Alexa, devices are starting to give answers. Conversational AI services have embedded themselves across various networks, creating a better user experience. But it comes with baggage — chatbot security risks.

Humans value face-to-face interactions, but it is not always possible. Thanks to technological advances, machines have started responding to queries, bringing a twist to the customer service industry.

Conversational chatbots assist customers by answering their queries as quickly and accurately as possible. They are an exciting innovation as they make the customer service industry partially independent. A well-automated chatbot can cut down staff requirements tremendously, but designing such a bot is a tedious process.

Several modern chatbots come with a voice recognition system and can answer complex questions, such as Alexa. The growing relevance of AI assistants signifies the importance of voice recognition systems.

Thanks to the advances in artificial intelligence, chatbots in commercial sectors have evolved beyond the surface-level, technical communication with customers. Nowadays, it is hard to differentiate between a chatbot and real people because of their human-like interactions.

On the flip side, this increased level of sensitive content has led to rising chatbot security concerns.

Even though there are several risks of using chatbots, security experts are a few steps ahead.

Since chatbot technology is responsible for collecting and safeguarding personal information, they are naturally an attraction for hackers and other malicious software.

Despite the increasing cyber threats, companies have employed conversational chatbots, installing automated response software on their website and social media channels. Platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and WeChat are all anticipating widespread use of chatbots for customer service operations.

The responsibility of ensuring chatbot security has become more pronounced after the introduction of GDPR.

The easy way is to employ chatbot security professionals and leave all the work to them. However, it is necessary to have a thorough understanding of the security issues and the counter-measures to tackle them.

Let us begin by understanding the security issues surrounding conversational chatbots and the best practices to protect them and minimise vulnerabilities.

Are chatbots secure? An overview of risks associated with chatbot security

Chatbot security risks fall into two categories, namely threats and vulnerabilities. 

One-off events, such as malware and DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks, are known as threats. Many a time, targeted attacks take place on businesses, resulting in the employees getting locked out. Threats to expose consumer data are on the rise, highlighting the risks of using chatbots.

On the other hand, vulnerabilities are faults in the system that allow cybercriminals to break into it. Vulnerabilities allow threats to get inside the system, and thus they both go hand-in-hand.

They are a result of incorrect coding, weak safeguards and user errors. Besides, it is hard to design a functioning system, so making a hack-proof system is nearly impossible.

The typical development of a chatbot begins with a code, and then it is tested for cracks, which are always present. These tiny cracks go unnoticed until it is too late, but a cybersecurity professional should be able to pinpoint them beforehand.

The processes for chatbot security vulnerabilities evolve every day to ensure early detection and solution.

The specific chatbot security risks are a lot more diverse and unpredictable. Regardless, they all fall into the two categories of threats and vulnerabilities.

Threats

There are many types of threats. For example, some of the threats could be employee impersonation, ransomware and malware, phishing, whaling and repurposing of bots by hackers.

If not acted upon, threats can lead to data theft and alterations, consequently causing serious damage to your business and customers. 

Let’s understand what these threats are in detail.

1. Ransomware

As the name suggests, ransomware is a form of a virus that encrypts a victim’s files and threatens to expose their data unless a ransom is paid. 

2. Malware

It is software designed to cause harm to any device or server. Ransomware, for instance, is a type of malware. Other examples include Trojan Viruses, Spyware and Adware, among others.

3. Phishing

It is the fraudulent act of seeking sensitive information from people by posing as legitimate institutions or individuals. Usually, people ask for sensitive details such as personally identifiable information, banking and credit card details, etc.

4. Whaling

It is similar to phishing, but people seeking sensitive content target high-profile and senior employees within the company. 

These are some common examples of threats associated with chatbots. Such threats may lead to data theft and alterations, along with impersonation of individuals and re-purposing of bots. 

Vulnerabilities

Unencrypted chats and a lack of security protocols are the vulnerabilities that pave the way for threats.

Hackers may also obtain back-door access to the system through chatbots if there is an absence of HTTPS protocol. However, sometimes the issues are present in the hosting platform.

How to tackle threats and vulnerabilities by securing chatbots

There are four ways to protect your system from chatbot security concerns. These include encryption, authentication, processes & protocols and education. Let us take a detailed look at them. 

Suggested Reading: Bam! Verloop.Io Just Got Extra-Secure

1. End-to-End encryption

We are all familiar with: “This chat is end-to-end encrypted”, likely through WhatsApp. It means that nobody other than the sender and receiver can access the conversation, ensuring your chat is secure.

Several chatbot designers have started using end-to-end encryption to increase security, and it is among the most effective methods of doing so. 

The stipulation that “it is specifically required that companies take measures to de-identify and encrypt personal data” comes under the obligations of the GDPR. Therefore, end-to-end encryption is necessary to comply with GDPR requirements.

2. Authentication processes

Authentication is a set of security processes used by chatbots. These processes ensure that the person using the device is legitimate and not fraudulent.

Specifically, authentication refers to the steps used to confirm user identity, and it’s required to grant access to any portal. These two concepts make for a robust security setup, but they have subtypes too.

a. Biometric authentication

You might have heard about “biometric attendance” in educational institutions. They are more reliable because they use fingerprints to identify people.

Biometric authentication processes use an individual’s body parts to verify identity. Software and devices have been using biometric authentication for a long time, so it is not a new method.

As of today, iris and fingerprint scans are popular means of biometric verification. We commonly see them as phone locks.

b. Two-factor authentication

This verification process is quite an old school one but comes with the added advantage of being tried and tested. It is still in use because it works well as a method of defence.

The individual is required to confirm their identity through two different platforms. Several institutions, such as banks, use two-factor authentication.

c. User ID

The oldest method of establishing security is still relevant and will remain so in the future.

We all remember getting creative with our user IDs as children. Even now, it is the simplest yet most effective way to keep your accounts safe.

Creating a unique user ID is the most widespread method of security for most people. Hardly anything can penetrate secure login credentials along with a strong password, complete with cases, digits and symbols.

d. Authentication Timeouts

These timeouts are used to prevent hackers from making repeated attempts to sign into the system. Only a person who knows the correct details can log in before the timeout.

3. Processes and Protocols

You must have noticed the “HTTPS” at the beginning of most websites because it is the default setting for a security system.

Your security teams must ensure that any data transfer should take place over HTTP and encrypted connections. As long as the Transport layer security or secure sockets layer is responsible for protecting these encrypted connections, your business need not worry about anyone breaking in. 

4. Education

Human error is among the most significant causes of cybercrimes, so educating people about it is crucial. The combination of a fundamentally flawed system and naive users gives open access to hackers into the system.

The significance of eliminating cyber crimes is getting recognition in recent years, but customers and employees are still the most prone to error. A security issue will persist unless everyone is educated about how to use conversational chatbots securely.

An effective chatbot security strategy should include training workshops for crucial topics by IT experts. It increases the skill set of your employees. Moreover, it fosters the confidence of your customers in your chatbot security system.

Even though you cannot train a customer, you can still provide a roadmap or instructions about the navigation through your systems to avoid any issues.

Other methods

Below we discuss some other methods that you can consider.

Self-erasing messages

This feature is quite self-explanatory, and it’s quite popular on several platforms, such as Snapchat and WhatsApp. Sometime after the conversation ends, the messages erase themselves automatically. Additionally, no one can recover such messages. 

Web Application Firewall (WAF)

A WAF protects your chatbot by blocking malicious addresses. This ensures malicious traffic and harmful requests don’t get through to your chatbot and change its code.

How to test your security measures?

The best way to test your systems mechanisms is by hiring experienced designers and security specialists to do a test run and offer suggestions. Also, you can use the following methods to check the reliability of your conversational AI chatbot security system.

Penetration testing

This method will help you detect vulnerabilities in your system, and you may know it by the term “ethical hacking”. It is an upcoming field in the IT industry, where cybersecurity professionals or automated software do an audit.

API security testing 

The application programming interface (API) of your system should undergo testing to weed out any vulnerabilities. Even though there are several tools to do so, you should consider hiring a security specialist because they have the latest software, knowledge and can find subtle vulnerabilities. 

Comprehensive UX testing

A good design translates to a good user experience, and there is no better way to judge a system other than its user experience. While testing your chatbot, pay attention to factors such as your expectations, chatbot engagement and surface faults.

New methods of protection

As one could guess, new methods of establishing chatbot security have emerged, making the online world safer. They are playing a crucial role in protecting chatbots against threats and detecting vulnerabilities.

Behavioural analytics and improved AI are the topmost effective amongst the said techniques. 

User Behavioural Analytics (UBA)

UBA uses processes that can study human behaviour. With the help of statistics and algorithms, these programs can predict abnormal behaviour.

Such behaviour could indicate a security threat, and detecting it at the right time prevents a cybersecurity crime from taking place. UBA will eventually become a powerful tool in chatbot security systems as the technology advances. 

Improvements in AI

In the virtual world, artificial intelligence is both a boon and a curse. It is used for breaking into as well as defending systems. However, with the continual development in this sector, artificial intelligence will be leveraged for increasing cybersecurity.

Without a doubt, AI can add a security layer that overtakes the current measures, thanks to its ability to study big chunks of data for sorting abnormalities, detecting threats and vulnerabilities.

Conclusion

Improvements in chatbot security measures will be countered by advanced means to threaten it, similar to other areas in the IT sector. However, this speculation only will make way for more advancements in the field.

Chatbot technology is no longer a new thing for the masses because it is widespread enough for specialists to understand its weakness and counter-measures.

Chatbot security specialists are the only people who can provide quality education on this subject. However, this walkthrough should give an idea about the processes used to ensure cyber safety.

Verloop.io ensures your and your customers’ data is safe, and interactions are secure. Talk to our team to understand our security measures in detail.

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Rachana Chotia

Content and Marketing, Verloop.io

Here to write about all things Customer Support Automation. If I’m not writing, I’m either reading or planning a trip.