Hackers stole 25 million US dollars by deepfaking company leadership

Employees were fooled during a live video conference manipulated with artificial intelligence.

A multinational company has lost the equivalent of 25.6 million US dollars after employees of its Hong Kong division fell victim to a deepfake scam powered with the help of artificial intelligence.

The elaborate scheme involved hackers employing advanced deepfake technology to convincingly recreate the company's chief financial officer and other participants in a fabricated video conference, the Hong Kong police investigating the case said.

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The South China Morning Post reports that the scammers had used publicly available footage to meticulously craft deepfake representations of the targeted staff. The video call featured only one authentic human participant, with the rest being sophisticated deepfakes engineered by the hackers, who looked real for the company staff. 

The orchestrated deception began with a phishing message in mid-January, luring a finance department employee into a group video call.

During this call, AI-generated deepfake versions of the CFO and other staff members, indistinguishable from their real-life counterparts, led the employee to believe in the necessity of a confidential financial transaction.

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The scammers employed deepfake technology not only to recreate appearances but also to mimic the voices of the targeted individuals, reading from a scripted scenario. Although the employees reportedly harbored initial doubts, the convincing nature of the deepfake avatars led them to participate in the call, where they were merely asked to introduce themselves.

The Hong Kong police department, in response, has issued guidelines to help identify deepfake participants in corporate settings. Recommendations include requesting participants to move their heads or asking additional questions to verify their authenticity before authorizing any financial transactions.

The name of the company was not revealed.

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This incident underscores the alarming progress of deepfake technology and its potential for significant financial harm. As deepfakes continue to evolve, instances like these raise concerns about the vulnerability of individuals and organizations to increasingly sophisticated cyber threats.

Another method to detect deepfake is to beam a powerful source of light into the camera; the software behind an artificially-generated face would take some time to analyze and respond as a normal human would respond naturally.

It is expected that deepfake images and videos will be part of the electoral arsenal this year, flooding voters with fake messages and narratives.

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