Why Fake News is a Bigger Threat Than Ever

Let your first fake news rule be “trust no one”: Internet Scambusters #900

Think you’re wised up to fake news? Guess again.

Now, artificial intelligence is being used to create mayhem not just in the written word but, more worryingly, in audios and videos that are so convincing even experts can’t spot the deception.

In this week’s issue, we’ll bring you up to date on the latest fake news and deep fake scams and how not to fall for them. But the bottom line is: Trust no one.

Let’s get started…

Why Fake News is a Bigger Threat Than Ever

Five years ago, most of us had never heard of fake news. Or, if we did, it was a term to trick us into clicking links that loaded malware onto our computers.

Today, it’s mainstream, it’s malicious and, sadly, very effective. It still cons people into downloading malware. But it also misleads innocent or naive people into forming opinions or making decisions based on lies and deception.

And, as we’ve already warned (Fake News, Videos and More Launch Year of 2020 Election Scams), with a presidential election looming, people of all political shades, but lacking scruples, are busy dreaming up fictional tales to back their interests.

In fact, it was during the 2016 election that the term really came to the fore, not just as a way of misleading, but also as a sort of defense — a technique of dismissing unfavorable reports, true or not, as being fake news.

Since then, technology has moved forward so rapidly that it’s getting tougher and tougher to separate the truth from the lies.

In particular, scammers are using artificial intelligence (AI) to clone voices and then to put phony words into the mouths of their targets.

It’s not just in the political arena either. Audio cloning has become a powerful weapon in the well-known scam in which employees are tricked into transferring money to crooks after a call they believe came from their boss.

But the biggest advances are being seen in video fakes in which AI is becoming capable not just of mimicking voices and lip-synchronizing, but also cloning facial expressions, gestures, and even the way people walk.

Again, this will allow scammers not only to imitate politicians but to copy executives too in video calls and conferences.

Deep Fakes

This is the realm that security experts call “deep fakes” and its tentacles are reaching out further and further in the criminal world, threatening businesses in a previously unforeseen way.

As a recent report in Forbes magazine explained: “Suppose, for example, your CEO shows up on a video saying something that can cause your company’s stock value to swing wildly.

“By the time your PR staff can put out the word that the video is a fake, a ruthless investor could have used your temporary misfortune to cash in on those wild stock swings or cause other damage to your company’s reputation.”

Voice cloning was the subject of a January workshop organized by the US Federal Trade Commission.

FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra told participants that new technology now allows people to clone what we thought was uniquely ours: our biometrics.

“From our fingerprints to our faces, losing control of our own biometrics poses another level of peril. When this happens, deep fakes, disinformation, and distrust will accelerate,” he said.

“We will need to determine how to control this technology and keep it out of the wrong hands. To protect our safety and security from the dangers of biometrics theft, we will need to be forward-thinking, rather than waiting for massive harm to occur. This may involve new laws, licensing, export controls, and oversight.”

New laws? There’s no evidence that crooks and political schemers take the slightest notice of laws. Meanwhile, scammers and would-be jokesters pump out whole websites full of falsehoods and deceptions.

It’s down to us, folks, to avoid the trap of fake news, fake audios, and fake videos. The law is unlikely to protect us much.

Trust No One

Sad to say, the only way to do that is, as they say in the world of espionage, trust no one.

Starting from there, the next step is to use ways to check out what you’re hearing, seeing or reading before making any decisions or before passing on what you’ve “discovered” to others.

The biggest giveaway to fake news in all its guises is sensation. The more outrageous alleged statements or happenings are, the more likely it is that you’ve encountered a fake.

You also need to be aware of sites whose whole existence is based on fake news. They may use labels like “entertainment” or “satire” to describe what they’re doing but, intentionally or not, they’re also misleading.

Here’s a list of so-called satirical news sites.

And some sites allegedly publish inaccurate or untrue material without claiming to be satirical. Check out this list of fake news sites.

The point is that if you see items from any of these sites, you’re likely being hoaxed or fed propaganda (which may or may not be true).

In the meanwhile, social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are employing armies of people to check the accuracy of some postings, and Google runs a “Fact Check” sidebar on its news pages.

There are also several sites, which we’ve previously highlighted, that are dedicated to establishing the truth or otherwise of news and academic reports.

Chief among these is FactCheck.org. They have a good guide on how to spot fake news. And there’s a searchable database of known fakes.

You can also do your own fact checking on any Internet search site by keying in a relevant phrase plus words like “scam,” “hoax,” or “fake.”

And if someone you know posts or sends you a link to a supposedly sensational story that you identify as fake news, let them know. Or things will just get worse.

Alert of the Week

Did you see a pop-up from PayPal inviting you to download their new app?

Beware! It’s likely a fake intended to trick you into downloading malware.

If you need or want to update a PayPal app for your mobile device, go to the relevant app store and find it there.

Time to conclude for today — have a great week!