Deepfake Deceit: $25 Million Scam Targets Multinational Firm

| February 08, 2024

A recent cyber incident in Hong Kong has exposed the growing threat of deepfakes, highlighting the need for businesses to strengthen their cybersecurity measures. According to Hong Kong police, on February 2nd 2024, a finance professional at a multinational firm was tricked into transferring over $25 million to fraudsters who used deepfakes to impersonate his superiors. The finance employee initially received an email from an account claiming to be the company’s chief financial officer (CFO) and requested multiple confidential transactions. The employee suspected the email was a phishing scam, but he reportedly felt more at ease after joining a video call with individuals who looked and sounded like the CFO and several of his colleagues. Convinced he was communicating with trusted members of the firm, the employee moved forward with the transactions, ultimately making 15 total transfers to five separate bank accounts. The transactions totaled roughly $25.6 million (US). The finance professional realized what happened when he spoke with the firm’s head office afterward. From there, the incident was reported to the authorities.

Upon investigation, Hong Kong police determined that the perpetrators developed AI-generated deepfakes of the finance worker’s CFO and colleagues by leveraging existing video and audio files of these individuals from online conferences and virtual company meetings. Every individual on the video call with the finance employee was a fraud, and these scammers likely walked away with all of the funds from the various money transfers. The stolen funds remain unrecovered, serving as a stark reminder of the potential financial damage deepfakes can cause.

This incident underscores the importance of employee awareness and training. Recognizing inconsistencies in video quality, voice patterns, or behavior can be crucial in identifying deepfakes. Additionally, businesses should consider implementing AI-powered detection tools and establishing clear response protocols for cyberattacks involving deepfakes.

Here are some key takeaways for business owners:

    • Employee training is critical to minimize the risks of deepfakes and associated damage. After all, employees are often the first line of defense against cyberattacks. Employees should be routinely educated on deepfakes, including what this technology is and how it may be used against businesses. By simply raising awareness of deepfakes, employees will be better equipped to spot them, allowing businesses to respond quickly and effectively to possible incidents.
    • Utilize detection software. While AI can be used to make deepfakes more convincing, this software can also be leveraged to help detect and mitigate potential deepfakes. In fact, large corporations such as Facebook and Microsoft use AI and similar software to identify and remove deepfake videos from their platforms. When it comes to deepfakes, the earlier these scams can be detected, the better; this allows businesses to act quickly and reduce related harm.
    • It is crucial to have proper response strategies in place. Such strategies should center around crisis mitigation and loss control. This includes outlining individual responsibilities, determining escalation practices and communicating appropriate response protocols. Additionally, if businesses haven’t already, they should be sure to include deepfake scenarios in their cyber incident response plans.

Deepfakes are a rapidly evolving threat, but proactive measures can mitigate their impact. By prioritizing cybersecurity awareness, detection, and response, businesses can protect themselves from falling victim to this sophisticated fraud tactic.