• Niki Ernst

Deepfake, Deep $#!t and Some Advice

Updated: Sep 20, 2019

On Aug 15th 2019, I was a target of a deepfake attack. Since then, my life has flipped upside down, the majority of my family has turned their back against me and I am in a divorce. I think, I am making a point there is something happening that is worth, deeply looking into.

Photocredits: Richard Patterson (Flickr)

First of all, let me tell you, a deepfake attack is something you do not want to experience. It is very likely that it will surface a lot of bad and ugly, around you, and I am a true believer of “nobody needs to know everything, all of the time”. Well, with an experience like this, you will get to know a lot more about people (around you) than you wish to know. What I have learned shall save you from a lot of trouble. Because deepfake is real and the consequences are reality.

To give you a glimpse of an idea of what we are talking about, allow me to elaborate on Deepfake, which is a portmanteau of Deep Learning and Fake. Human Image Synthesis is when technology helps to create believable and photorealistic renderings of human-likeness (moving or still). This is 19 years old technology and most well known as CGI (Computer Generated Imagery). Together with Artificial Intelligence, existing content from the digital footprint of the target is combined and superimposed onto visual, text and video, using machine learning. This has been invented in 2014 and is called Generative Adversarial Network (Ian Goodfellow). Two neural networks contest in a game-theory fashion to generate new data with the same statistics as the training set.

Deepfake has been used to create fake celebrity pornographic videos or revenge porn but its actually so powerful it can turn every individual with a digital footprint into a protagonist of limitless fantasies. These social engineering scams are fooling people into thinking they are receiving instructions, information or content from a trusted individual.

Since January 2018, literally everyone can tinker around with FakeApp, an app that allows users to easily create and share videos with faces swapped. It’s basically composed of an artificial neural network, a GPU and some Gigabyte of storage space to generate these videos. The AI framework is provided by google: TensorFlow is a free and open source software for data-flow and differentiable programing across a range of tasks. It was released in November 2015.

I am just touching the surface, here. If you are interested in more, you will find tons of literature, publications, articles and videos about deekfake, online.

From personal experience, conversation and research, allow me to share the following advice with you:

• never switch platforms with a user before having met in real. Platforms are working hard to guard your security and with user-collaborative effort to block users and keep scam out of your life. There are complex machine learning algorithm backends doing a improvingly better job in predictive analysis of potential fraud users. Once you take it to another platform with the user (ie from Snapchat to Whatsapp), you are resetting the learning mechanism hence a lot more vulnerable to an attack.

• sounds profane, but: think twice what you share and post. Does what you are posting, reflect the person you want to be? Does it reflect your personality, your status, your visions, ideas, dreams and fantasies? Accept a fact that every upload is actually a public announcement and will stay FOREVER.

• by default, you should not accept incoming messages from users you either do not know or do not have a common connection to establish trust. In case of doubt, ask this connection about this user.

• If you are approached in a way that opens a “personal” or “private” conversation, block the user and delete the message. Visuals and Videos can contain viruses that make your device fully accessible to external control, opening doors to fraud and abuse.

• Reset your passwords as often as you can. Never use a logic behind your passwords and never use one password twice. This sounds like making your life very complicated but a) there are enough trustworthy and helpful password-keeper apps and b) this is about your life. Not kidding. Not exaggerating.

• If you are subscribed to dating platforms, use an exclusively dedicated device for this. A device you do not use for anything else. Don’t have any passwords on this device and do not use it for common social media platforms.

I understand curiosity and I embrace it. I am not saying the internet is dangerous, per se. Au contraire, I am a strong believer that the internet is a peaceful environment and actually will more and more play a key role to make our world a better place. But unlike the real world, it is impossible to identify a difference wether you are talking to a friend, an enemy or a machine. Experiences like my current are actually easy to avoid - if you are aware of the power of technology and consistent with some easy safety rules like the six, I have listed above.

Drive safely.



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