The Rise of Synthetic Content and Deepfakes

What is Synthetic Content?

The Federal Bureau of Investigation defines synthetic content as a broad spectrum of generated or manipulated digital content that includes images, video, audio, and text. In other words, it is content that has been automatically created.

Advances in AI (artificial intelligence) and ML (machine learning) have led to the creation of programmed content that seems to be real or manually created. For instance, each time the website ThisPersonDoesNotExist is refreshed, a very realistic image of a person who does not exist is generated by AI!

Generally, this content is considered as protected speech under the First Amendment. The FBI recently issued a notification that it anticipates malicious synthetic content attributed to foreign actors or cybercriminals which may result in an investigation.

Deepfake Technology

Deepfakes are videos or audio recordings that are digitally altered by AI. Deepfakes are becoming more difficult to detect. It is expected that high quality videos will soon be inexpensively created using downloaded software and apps by individuals with minimal technical knowledge. Combined with the virality of the internet, believable fake videos have the potential to compromise privacy, harm corporations, spread societal and political discord, and propagate disinformation. (Disinformation is false information that is meant to mislead; whereas misinformation is false information provided without malice.)

Deepfake video and audio can be used maliciously in emails, texts, and phone calls to convince recipients that the information is real. Reportedly in 2020, a Hong Kong bank manager authorized $35 million in transfers based on a call he believed to be from the director of a company with whom he’d previously spoken. It was a fraudster using AI to spoof the director’s voice.

Beneficial Uses

Deepfake technology also has a positive side. It is used as a tool to enhance communications during training, marketing, news reporting, and video chat bots. Some additional constructive uses include:

  • Education: bring historical figures to life
  • Language Translation: inexpensively generate high-quality videos in multiple languages to disseminate advertisements or corporate messages
  • Healthcare: voice replacement to emulate the voice of a person who can no longer speak
  • Entertainment: content creation, editing without a re-shoot; gaming technology
  • Increase Revenue: enable people to authorize use of their images and get paid for “appearances” without traveling

Reuters has collaborated with Synthesia, a UK-based startup, to create automated personalized news reports for viewers. EY, formerly known as Ernst & Young, is exploring Synthesia’s technology for AI-created avatars to send videos instead of emails to clients. Refer this article to learn 15 ways to spot deepfake videos.

Avatars will become more lifelike with technology advances. Incidentally, Swedish pop group ABBA is building a special venue where members will be performing digitally via avatars with a live band in 2022.

Potentially Dangerous Repercussions

Deepfake technology will transform audio and video productions, but the ethical and legal considerations are immense. Recently, the documentary “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain” is based on remembering chef Anthony Bourdain and includes his synthetic audio, which was not initially disclosed and has triggered questions about ethical boundaries.

Deepfakes can be a threat to anyone depicted in such videos or audio content. Conversely, authentic content can be labelled as deepfakes to propagate distrust, create confusion and lead people to question reality. Some examples of potential risks include:

  • Biometric Spoofing – for example, trick family members via vishing to send funds, authorize access to sensitive information, or distribute funds to hackers. Pay close attention to phone calls or voice messages that ask for funds.
  • Bullying, Harassment
  • Adult Content Videos
  • Spear Phishing Attacks
  • Impersonate Executives to get employees to commit fraud
  • Fake Promotional Material
  • Attempt by Competitors to Damage Reputation/Negatively Impact Shares of Public Companies
  • Manipulate Money Markets or Stocks
  • Re-frame History
  • Election and Evidence Tampering
  • Conspiracies by Foreign Adversaries
  • Distort Emergency Alert Warnings/Public Service Announcements
  • News Reporting of Disinformation
  • Incite Violence

Future Safeguards

Companies continue to develop technologies to identify deepfakes. In June 2010 the best algorithm in Facebook’s Deepfake Detection Challenge accurately determined if a video was real or fake with 65% accuracy. In September 2021 M12, Microsoft’s venture capital fund, invested in deepfake verification startup Truepic.

In August 2021 the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental affairs voted unanimously to advance the bi-partisan Deepfake Task Force Act, which would establish a team with representatives from the Federal Government, higher education, and private or nonprofit organizations to investigate policy and technology strategies for limiting the damage of deepfake technology. The DEEPFAKES Accountability Act was introduced in June 2019.

News From the Vault: How your customers are becoming victims of wire fraud

Incidents continue to be reported to banks and their insurers involving data compromises that occur at the bank customer’s location. Banks are saddled with a dual duty when it comes to wire transfers – securing against wire fraud through your own policies and procedures, and helping customers secure themselves against data compromise.

In our latest News from the Vault article, Craig Collins of Intact Financial Services shares some of the most common and evolving methods of data compromise. Read the complete article on our website.

Veterans Day: Honoring All Who Served

Today we pause to honor and give thanks to all who have served our country.  As you know, Veteran’s Day is celebrated on November 11 in honor of the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” that marked the end of World War I. Originally known as Armistice Day, this day of commemoration was renamed Veteran’s Day in 1954 by President Eisenhower.

To those of you who are veterans or whose family members served, we appreciate your generous spirit and commitment.

Happy Veteran’s Day 2021!

Supply Chain Material Shortages and the Risk it has to Construction Sites

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, construction sites experienced limited operations or, in some cases, shut-downs for extended periods of time. Due to the recent supply chain material shortages across the world, there’s always a chance this may happen again. The building industry will likely see the delivery of materials to jobsites being delayed or slowed down, which could result in reduced work schedules or temporary shut-downs.
In addition to potential reduced schedules, jobsites may stock pile materials on site well before they are actually needed to prevent a delay in the project. As a result, security on jobsites should be enhanced to help prevent theft and vandalism. At a minimum, the following security measures should be considered:
  • Increase physical site protection by using watchmen during all non-working hours.
  • Install intrusion detection alarm systems with central station monitoring throughout the project to monitor unauthorized access.
  • Install central station alarm monitored cameras throughout the project.
  • Provide security fencing and lockable gated entrances.
  • Provide ample lighting during all evening hours.
  • Make certain all highly valued materials such as electrical wiring, plumbing supplies and HVAC support materials are secured in locked Conex boxes or not delivered on site until needed.
  • Notify the local police department of possible limited work schedules for increased patrols.

For more information or assistance, please visit our website. 


Celebrate National Native American Heritage Month!

Today marks the start of National Native American Heritage Month! This month-long commemoration was first designated in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush, expanding the previously celebrated “American Indian Week” initially proclaimed in 1986. Throughout the month, resources, storytelling, and experiences will be showcased to enable learning about the rich cultures and the many contributions made by Native Americans over the course of U.S. history.

Resources to learn more:

Library of Congress: Online exhibits and insights provided through the Library of Congress and the National Archives.

PBS: A special collection of stories that explore the history, traditions, and culture of Native Americans.

2021 Presidential proclamation

Books: Reading list curated by Powell Books featuring fiction and nonfiction titles for various age groups.