Cyber Security

Don’t Be Faked Out by Deepfakes

 March 31, 2020

By  Anton Kiorolgo

We’ve all seen bad CGI in movies or video games – strangely distorted faces, unrealistic body angles, clothes clipping through a body, characters completely disappearing and clipping through objects.

How Could a Video Possibly Be Dangerous?

However, with each passing day, these grievous visual mistakes are becoming a thing of the past as technology improves, making creating visual effects so easy that even a home computer can manage to create scenes worthy of feature films.

In some ways, creating a deepfake is just as easy and creating a pamphlet in Microsoft Office or starting up a new video game.

Can Deepfakes Be Done at Home?

  • Faceswap
    • Software Available? – Yes
    • Price: Free
  • DeepFaceLab
    • Price: Free
    • Software Available? – Yes
  • Lyrebird
    • Price: Free to $15 per month
    • Software Available? – Yes

Both Faceswap and DeepFaceLab are open-source applications (meaning that they are primarily put together by source code developed by many volunteers, and free to download) with significant uses by online users, including popular YouTube channels.

Another new software, Lyrebird, has shown effectiveness in being able to directly replicate voices. The software can perform a text-to-speech function, with the replicated voice able to read back input text.

All these applications can run on modern home computers. In some ways, creating a deepfake is just as easy and creating a pamphlet in Microsoft Office or starting up a new video game.

The Deepfake Creation Process

The deepfake creation process is long and slow, at least on a general consumer-level setup, as the computer must be “trained” to recognize the images that it is being shown. Two unique visual feeds are given to the computer, such as in this example, Linus of Linus’ Tech Tips and Louis Rossman, a fellow YouTuber. The two feeds are thoroughly examined by the computer, then mashed together. Deepfakes can replicate voices as well. More sophisticated labs have been able to create deepfakes within hours.

From the point of creation, the rest that remains is to simply post the video to social media and watch the views tick up.

Case One: Scamming Businesses

The managing director of a European energy company received a strange phone call – the lead executive was calling, demanding that funds be sent into a Hungarian bank account to “avoid late fees” – an amount in the tune of $240,000.

While on the phone, the voice explained how much was to be sent to the Hungarian bank account, and an email was sent over giving the routing number and essential information to process the payment. The managing director did as he was told, knowing to deny his boss’ request would put his livelihood on the line.

After a few minutes, the managing director then pulled the correct tool from the cybersecurity playbook and called the executive himself to verify that these requests were being made. He was shocked when Johannes picked up the phone, while in his other ear, the deepfake Johannes continued to demand money. However, this realization had come too late.

Over $240,000 had been transferred to a Hungarian bank account and was gone just as fast as it had been transferred, first sent to a second account in Mexico, then dispersed.

The managing director disclosed that the voice on the other end of the line was seemingly authentic – matching his boss’s voice, tone, and even down to his German accent.

  • Why Fear A Once-Off Event?

This story is not unique. Deepfakes are being used more frequently to defraud both individuals and businesses, as well as governments. Political deepfake videos have been shared internationally as misinformation campaigns against candidates, as well as to share untruthful information.

Case Two: Nonconsensual Deepfake Porn

A woman in the UK reported to Elle that her likeness was used (nonconsensually) in deepfake pornography. Images of her were lifted from social media (non-pornographic) and then used to deepfake her face and features onto the actress inside of a pornographic video.

The deepfake videos were then used to blackmail her as she undertook the process to have the videos and images generated from the pornographic deepfake removed from the internet.

  • How Is Deepfake Porn Legal?

Laws do not yet largely exist to cover the use of victims in deepfake pornography. There is existing legislation against nonconsensual and revenge pornography, however, lawmakers have generally considered deepfakes as non-human actors, as if the law would apply to a fictional video game character.

Case Three: Election Fraud

Many political analysts are concerned of deepfakes causing election fraud. Facebook has already dropped the ban hammer on deepfake videos, and China has already made the step to ban the production of deepfake videos, making it illegal to do so.

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What Harm Could a Deepfake Possibly Do?

Known as “the October Surprise,” a deepfake could be used to reveal untruthful information about a candidate just before elections. This irreparable damage, of course, could not be repaired as election day hits.

There are multiple examples of deepfakes spreading misinformation already, including some of Nancy Pelosi appearing drunk and a strange public service announcement by former President Obama.

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