What are AI worms?

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AI worms refer to a new type of cyber threat that leverages the capabilities of generative AI systems to autonomously spread between systems, potentially stealing data or deploying malware in the process. These worms use adversarial self-replicating prompts to propagate through AI systems, hijacking them to execute unauthorized actions. The concept is similar to traditional computer worms, which are malware that self-replicate and spread to other computers, but AI worms specifically target AI-powered systems and applications. Researchers from Cornell University, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, and Intuit have developed a worm called Morris II, which is capable of attacking generative AI email assistants to steal data and send spam. This worm is named after the original Morris computer worm that caused significant disruption in 1988. The creation of Morris II highlights the potential risks and vulnerabilities in interconnected and autonomous AI ecosystems, such as those used for tasks like calendar bookings and product purchases125. The research demonstrates the worm's ability to infiltrate generative AI email assistants, extracting data and disseminating spam, thereby breaching security measures of prominent AI models like ChatGPT and Gemini. The researchers emphasize the importance of secure application design, human oversight in AI operations, and monitoring for unusual patterns within AI systems to mitigate these risks126. Generative AI worms have not been observed in the wild yet, but security experts and researchers consider them a real threat that needs to be addressed by startups, developers, and tech companies. Traditional security measures and vigilant application design can help prevent the spread of AI worms12. The research on AI worms is a call to action for the AI development community to prioritize security in designing and deploying AI systems, as the potential for AI worms to spread autonomously between AI agents without detection introduces a new vector for cyberattacks56.
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