KYC Security

Deepfake phishing attempts in corporate and personal communications 

Sensity Team
2 February 2024

Data breaches, identity theft and other online frauds have become pervasive on the web, causing significant economic damages and jeopardizing not only the privacy of internet users, but also the credibility of numerous businesses and institutions operating online. The evolution of AI and deepfakes has exponentially increased both the quantity and sophistication of these threats, rendering traditional cybercrimes much more effective. 

Among these threats, the most prevalent is phishing, a tactic that has become even more effective through heightened emotional manipulation facilitated by deepfakes and generative AI, targeting corporate and personal communications. In this article, we will explore the primary mechanisms of deepfake phishing, its impact on cybersecurity, and the most effective strategies to counteract deepfake attacks.

What is Phishing?

The generic term phishing encompasses every attempt to obtain money, data and sensitive information, including usernames, passwords, and financial accounts details, through deceptive mechanisms embedded in electronic communications. Phishing has evolved alongside the widespread adoption of the internet since the 1990s, as online connectivity has become an essential part of our daily lives. 

The most prevalent phishing methods involved scammers sending emails containing links or attachments, with the intention of obtaining targeted information from unsuspecting recipients. While emails are a common instrument in phishing attempts, these scams may also manifest in other forms such as SMS or, increasingly, through social media platforms like FacebookInstagram, and LinkedIn. Moreover, phishing extends beyond written communication, and may involve so called “voice phishing”, using voice synthesizers or pre-recorded calls to convincingly compel victims to disclose sensitive information. 

Test your skills in detecting AI-generated images and deepfake videos.

Different levels of Sophistication

Phishing attacks come in various forms, employing numerous tactics. Among the simplest are bulk attacks, wherein emails are indiscriminately sent to a large audience via spam without a specific recipient. These attacks are often easily recognizable due to certain characteristics:  poorly written content, obscure sender information, and highly suspicious messages. Additionally, most email providers have effective antispam mechanisms in place, capable of blocking such attacks and preventing them to reach your inbox. 

Moving up the sophistication scale is “spear phishing”, a technique involving targeted communications aimed at specific individuals. In this case, scammers often try to impersonate legitimate sources to gain access to sensitive data. The crafting of such emails can be deceptively challenging to detect at first glance, as they often employ logos and features identical to those of genuine organizations. Consider, for instance, a fraudulent bill supposedly from your electric provider or an urgent communication appearing to be from your bank – both meticulously personalized to target you directly. 

Deepfake phishing and social engineering tactics

The emergence of deepfake and generative AI has significantly elevated the sophistication and prevalence of phishing attacks, in a multitude of new forms. While the fundamental tactics of phishing remain largely unchanged, deepfakes make it more complicated to detect these scams, increasing the probability to fall victims to such schemes. 

Take, for instance, a traditional phishing attempt via telephone or video call, performed with an AI generated cloned voice or a deepfake video featuring someone familiar to you. Picture receiving a call from a coworker or even your superior, urging you to authorize a large payment or engage in an otherwise routine office task, such as sharing confidential data. 

The heightened emotional engagement in these types of scams raises the likelihood of individuals falling into the trap. Notably, some of these deepfakes are exceptionally difficult to discern without detection software, highlighting the crucial role of deepfake intelligence in enhancing cybersecurity defenses.

The effects of deepfakes in corporate

As deepfake videos continue to proliferate on the internet at an alarming annual rate of 900% (as reported by the World Economic Forum in 2023), the risks faced by individual users and corporate entities are multifaceted and severe. 

These include potential reputation and brand damage, legal and compliance issues, erosion of employee trust, financial scams and intellectual property thefts, prepared through fabricated videos impersonating, for instance, the Chief Executives making falsified statements, or Financial Directors authorizing fraudulent transactions. 

The risks are further amplified by the looming threat of information theft within the corporate world, posing a significant risk of widespread corporate espionage. The sophisticated techniques employed in deepfake phishing attacks, create an environment where sensitive corporate data become increasingly vulnerable to unauthorized access and exploitation. 

Detecting deepfakes in corporate communications is difficult due to the rapid advancement of technology and its widespread user-friendly accessibility. For this reason, the constant improvement in deepfake realism and quality makes it challenging for traditional detection methods to distinguish between authentic and manipulated content. 

Adversarial techniques employed by deepfake creators add another layer of complexity, as they actively modify their creations to evade identification. These techniques involve analyzing existing detection methods and modifying the deepfake to make it less vulnerable to identification.

For instance, if a deepfake detection system relies on specific patterns or features to differentiate between genuine and manipulated content, creators may tweak their deepfake generation process to deliberately minimize or alter those patterns, making it more challenging for detection algorithms to accurately identify the manipulated content.

This battle of wits between creators of deepfakes and those developing detection methods has led to a continuous cycle of innovation and adaptation on both sides. Deepfake phishing techniques aim to exploit weaknesses in detection systems, emphasizing the need for robust and flexible detection strategies to stay ahead of evolving deepfake technology

The diversity of content types, including facial manipulations, voice synthesis, and entire body movements, requires comprehensive and adaptable detection strategies. 

Organizations that strategically integrate robust and flexible detection mechanisms into their cybersecurity framework will not only safeguard sensitive information but also gain a significant strategic advantage. Staying ahead in this technological arms race will be a defining factor for businesses aiming to secure their digital assets and maintain trust. 

The rise of AI-generated images can be challenging to discern. Don’t be fooled.

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