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Unmasking deepfakes and their threat landscape in cybersecurity

Identity theft has undergone a profound transformation, moving beyond the realm of pilfered social security numbers and passwords. The advent of deepfake technology has ushered in a new era where cybercriminals can take people’s actual images and likenesses and use them to impersonate individuals for their own malicious purposes. 

These attacks are on the rise, and they may soon cease to be mere fodder for online humor, evolving into strategic tools employed to exploit high-profile individuals, including world leaders, to spread misinformation and sow chaos.

Understanding deepfakes

Deepfake technology leverages artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to manipulate audio and video content seamlessly. By employing deep learning algorithms, cybercriminals can craft convincing facsimiles of real individuals, making it appear as though these individuals are saying or doing things they never actually did. The implications of this technology for cybersecurity are profound.

Deepfakes have elevated the capabilities of threat actors, pushing attacks like business email compromise (BEC) and identity verification bypassing to unprecedented levels of sophistication.

Consider a notable incident in the UK in 2019. An energy company’s CEO was led to believe he was engaged in a conversation with the CEO of the company’s parent organization. The fraudulent voice, created through deepfake technology, convincingly mimicked the chief executive, ultimately persuading the CEO to transfer €220,000 to what he believed was the bank account of a supplier. This incident underscores the real-world consequences of deepfake technology.

As we look ahead to 2023 and beyond, we must brace ourselves for the increase of such scams. The continued popularity of remote work and virtual communications across industries, including everyday work scenarios, presents fertile ground for malicious actors. 

VMWare’s 2022 Global Incident Response Threat Report underscores the alarming spread of deepfake-enabled attacks. In a survey, 66% of respondents reported having witnessed such attacks within the past year, marking a significant rise from just 13% in 2021. This rapid proliferation of deepfake attacks poses a challenge to organizations and individuals alike.

One of the primary reasons deepfake attacks are currently effective lies in the lack of widespread awareness and readily available technological tools to detect and deter them. Many organizations remain ill-prepared to defend against this emerging threat.

Countering the deepfake threat

Addressing the deepfake threat necessitates a multi-faceted approach that combines awareness, technology, and policy.

  1. Awareness: The first step is acknowledging the existence and potential consequences of deepfake attacks. Organizations and individuals must educate themselves about the technology, its risks, and the methods used by attackers.
  2. Technological solutions: As deepfake attacks evolve, so too must the tools and technologies designed to combat them. Research into deepfake detection and prevention is ongoing, and organizations should stay abreast of developments in this space.
  3. Policy and regulation: Governments and regulatory bodies should play a crucial role in developing policies and regulations to address deepfake threats. Legal frameworks can establish accountability and consequences for malicious deepfake creation and distribution.
  4. Training and vigilance: Organizations should invest in cybersecurity training programs to help employees recognize and respond to potential deepfake threats. Vigilance and skepticism should be encouraged when dealing with digital media.

If you think that you may be interacting with a deepfake, disconnect and call your contact back at a known, authenticated number.

Deepfake technology represents a significant challenge to cybersecurity and poses real-world risks to individuals, organizations, and even nations. As deepfake attacks continue to evolve, it is imperative that we remain vigilant, proactive, and informed to counter this emerging threat effectively. The unmasking of deepfakes is not only a technological imperative but also a societal one, as the consequences of inaction could be severe and far-reaching.