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Although most public attention surrounding deepfakes has focused on large propaganda campaigns, the problematic new technology is much more insidious, according to a new report by artificial intelligence and foreign policy experts at Northwestern University and the Brookings Institution.

In the ‘Deepfakes and international conflict’ report, the authors discuss deepfake videos, images and audio as well as their related security challenges. The researchers predict that the technology is on the brink of being used much more widely.

“The ease with which deepfakes can be developed for specific individuals and targets, as well as their rapid movement - most recently through a form of AI known as stable diffusion - point toward a world in which all states and nonstate actors will have the capacity to deploy deepfakes in their security and intelligence operations,” the authors write. “Security officials and policymakers will need to prepare accordingly.”

The process of creating deepfakes is straight-forward says the report and the authors believe that state and non-state actors will leverage deepfakes to strengthen ongoing disinformation efforts. Deepfakes could help fuel conflict by legitimizing war, sowing confusion, undermining popular support, polarizing societies, discrediting leaders and more. In the short-term, security and intelligence experts can counteract deepfakes by designing and training algorithms to identify potentially fake videos, images and audio. This approach, however, is unlikely to remain effective in the long term.

For long-term strategies, the report’s authors make several recommendations:

  • Educate the general public to increase digital literacy and critical reasoning.
  • Develop systems capable of tracking the movement of digital assets by documenting each person or organization that handles the asset.
  • Encourage journalists and intelligence analysts to slow down and verify information before including it in published articles.
  • Use information from separate sources, such as verification codes, to confirm legitimacy of digital assets.

Above all, the authors argue that governments should enact policies that offer robust oversight and accountability mechanisms for governing the generation and distribution of deepfake content.

More details.

How do deepfakes threaten businesses directly?

From a business perspective, deepfakes offer both a reputational threat and a social engineering attack threat.

Reputational threat: Deepfakes of company officers could be used to express opinions and make statements damaging to the business.

Social engineering: Deepfakes have high potential for use within social engineering cyber attacks and fraud attempts. A deepfake video message from an executive would add weight to a false money transfer request, for example.

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