The sinister timing of deepfakes and the 2020 elections

Education and legislation are needed to combat the significant threat of deepfakes.

The sinister timing of deepfakes and the 2020 elections
Education and legislation are needed to combat the significant threat of deepfakes.

Karen Roby from TechRepublic spoke with Matt Price from ZeroFox about the kind of deep counterfeits that circulate and their potential impact in the election cycle. The following is an edited transcript of their interview.

Matt Price: Audio deepfakes are just synthetic audio, usually trained on the voice of a certain person, such as the CEO of a company, and then you can then enter text into that algorithm, which then generates the right words using that person’s synthetic voice .

Video deepfakes, on the other hand, are videos in which you usually copy someone’s face to an actor or simply replace that original person’s face, making them say something they never really said. So this can be very short periods of time. The video may be just five seconds of modified video, or the entire video may have changed. We have seen deepfakes that last a few minutes.

SEE: How to protect your zoom conference line against hackers (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Karen Roby: Extensive for us about deepfakes during the election season and how concerned should we be?

Matt Price: We have seen evidence of deepfake concepts that could be used to influence the electorate. We have not released deepfakes into the wild that we think are really malignant, without saying they are deepfakes and trying to mask what they are. But at the end of the day they could actually have a huge influence. If you drop a deepfake at the right time, for example two or three days before an election, do you imagine the impact that could have if it went viral? And within that two or three day period, it may not be enough time to go and prove conclusively that this video was a deep fake. That could then influence voters, enough to vote for a particular political candidate. That is really the big question about deepfakes and how they can be used and how we would stop them before they went viral.

Apart from deepfakes alone, we have already seen the influence operations that take place today with texts and images. So deepfakes are really just another tool in that malicious actor’s arsenal to perform these influence operations.

Karen Roby: Are there different types of scams, in particular deep fakes during elections?

Matt Price: Regarding elections, as I said before, deepfakes are just a small piece of the puzzle. There are many things going on today about elections that I think not many people are aware of. One of the big ones is cheaters. There are many people who go in and present themselves as political candidates, for example we caught a few with Bernie Sanders, and a few with a President Trump. So those cheaters go around, try to spread a slightly different message or they try to collect donations from people and naturally disappear with the donations.

Just like that, there are scams where they don’t necessarily represent the political candidate, but they try to get money or personally identifiable information, so they might try to break into someone’s accounts later.

Karen Roby: So the big question is, what are we doing?

Matt Price: There are a number of different ways in which this problem can be tackled, and I don’t think anyone is a solution in itself. One is just proactive police work on large websites, and in particular social media. Clearly indicate that something is synthetic media or that if the facts in the article cannot be proven, I think it would be a long way to only inform people about what they read.

The other piece is education. You must be very aware and aware that what you read online may not be the truth. There is not necessarily much supervision over the content that is put online and you never really know where it comes from. Even if it is said to be a large news organization, it can clearly be synthetic and made up.

So I think those two things are crucial. The other is legislation. Ultimately, there are no laws that regulate what happens today with social media and websites. They are not responsible for the content that users post there, so they do not really have an incentive to go around and try to remove this synthetic content or even notice that it is synthetic content. Coming up with another kind of political solution is also the other piece of the puzzle.

Karen Roby spoke with Matt Price from ZeroFox about deepfakes and their possible effect on elections.

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