Wednesday, 07 June 2023 14:24

Sextortionists Get a Boost from AI and Publicly Available Images

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As if the internet needed something else bad floating around it seems that groups that engage in extortion schemes involving the threat of releasing images of a sexual nature are now getting help from AI image creation tools. Sextortion emails are nothing new, in many cases the blackmail is little more than an effort to get a target to click on a malicious file (disguised as an image or video file) in order to get ransomware on a system if the original blackmail is not good enough.

Now the FBI is releasing a warning that these same schemes are getting a boost. The attack groups are scraping publicly available images, found on social media or other locations, and then using AI tools to create sexually explicit images. Thanks to improvements in AI image generations the fake images look very real. An attacker that does not get their way from the original email can then send these to people known to have connections to the targeted person or simply release them online to cause reputational harm.

This is just another cautionary tale about the proliferation of AI. Here publicly available tools and their derivatives are being used maliciously in a manner that the original developers probably never imagined they would be. However, that failure of imagination now puts people at risk. This new abuse of AI is a very dangerous one as people are very inclined to believe what they see at first rather than wait to see all the evidence and information before forming an opinion. Even if an image is proven false later, the damage could be irreversible depending on the person targeted.

Sadly, creating new laws and overregulation are not the answer here either as laws and regulations only impact groups that are going to obey them (meaning cyber criminals will ignore them). So, it falls back on the people creating these tools to understand the risks associated with them. This means also thinking like the “bad guys” do in terms of understanding abuse of these tools.

If you are a victim of the use of a tool like this, it is recommended that you let the authorities know as soon as possible and request the fake content be removed as well. General guidelines for keeping your images protected is to limit access to small groups of individuals. You should also check on your kids (if you have any) to ensure they are not sharing images or data with strangers. If you have a public profile for business (like a journalist or content creator) this might be impossible, but then reporting of any threats using fake images should be done as soon as possible.

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