Cyber security experts say scammers are harnessing the power of AI chatbots to write new malware. Photo: Sora Shimazaki/Pexels
A few years back I got an urgent email from a friend of mine saying he was in Scotland on a trip and his hotel caught fire, completely gutting his belongings including his passport. The Indian embassy and the hotel management have sorted out everything and he was catching a flight back soon, the mail comforted me.
The only glitch was he needed a few hundred pounds in cash immediately to stay in Scotland for a couple of days and in his mail, he promised to send it back as soon as he reached home. Luckily I didn't fall for this scam which seemed to originate from the UK though neither the police there nor in Kerala could not make headway after my friend complained about this.
That was just another model of the infamous “Nigerian email scams” that started three decades ago and ended up costing many hapless people their life savings as they were lured by offers to make them rich quickly. According to Wikipedia, such scams existed even in the 19th century and email scams continue to reap hundreds of thousands of dollars every year.
That is the past, and now back to the future. The emergence of powerful artificial intelligence platforms that can create high-quality fake text, audio, and video has opened up new opportunities for criminal elements.
For instance, imagine receiving an urgent phone call from a family member claiming to be in trouble and in need of a transfer of funds to pay for a hospital bill. They provide you with an account number, and as it is your kin, your first instinct is to help them out immediately.
This is precisely what happened to Ruth Card, 73, and her husband, Greg Grace, 75, in Canada. The only problem was that the caller was actually a scammer using an AI program to mimic the voice of their grandson.
Thankfully, an alert bank stopped the transfer, as reported by The Washington Post. According to the report, advancements in artificial intelligence have introduced a frightening new dimension to phone call fraud. With just a few sentences of audio, bad actors can now use cheap online tools powered by AI to replicate a voice and make it “speak” whatever they type. This has allowed scammers to trick unsuspecting individuals into transferring money by posing as their relatives in distress.
Phone call scams, such as the “Ore-Ore scam”, have been a regular occurrence in Japan since the early 2000s and continue to this day. Many elderly people have fallen victim to these scams, as they rush to send money under the impression that their son or daughter is in serious trouble. Over the years, scammers have developed a variety of methods to steal millions from unsuspecting victims, including some who are aware of their tricks.
As the internet has become more pervasive in our lives, so too have the efforts of fraudsters to create bots and lure unsuspecting people into dubious business ideas and job offers. However, experts warn that these types of scams are nothing compared to what is likely to emerge as AI becomes more accessible.
Programs like ChatGPT, which are highly efficient text generators, could potentially be used by online fraudsters who prey on lonely men and women looking for companionship on the internet. Despite constant campaigns to raise awareness about such scams, Hong Kong still sees millions of dollars lost every year. One intriguing factor is that the victims come from a range of backgrounds, including highly qualified individuals and housemaids.
Last year, reports emerged about syndicates in Cambodia that locked up thousands of people and forced them to write sex scam emails. A Keralite who returned to India in June of last year detailed his experiences, and similar stories have been reported in other countries such as Malaysia and China.
Criminal gangs have been known to force people to write hundreds of scam emails, but with AI programs capable of generating these messages in mere seconds, the prevalence of these types of scams is expected to skyrocket.
Another troubling area is the ability of AI bots to provide computer codes, which allows even those who are not well-versed in coding to develop dangerous malware. According to Sergey Shykevich of Checkpoint Security, a cybersecurity company, criminals are already taking advantage of this capability. His team discovered that a group had used a chatbot to develop a potential malware.
“What is interesting is that these guys who posted it had never developed anything before,” Shykevich told Insider Magazine.
Even more worrying is the sophistication achieved in deepfake videos. Recently, an interview purportedly given by Bill Gates circulated on social media, showing the interviewer grilling the Microsoft founder. Some fact-checking sites later found that the entire video was fake and fashioned out of an earlier interview that ABC aired earlier this year.
“Such bots will take misinformation to a new level as fake text, audios, and videos will be made by AI tools designed to mimic humans,” cyber security expert Stu Sjouwerman writes in Forbes magazine. In the detailed article, he illustrates how cybercriminals can use AI chatbots in different ways.
While experts continue to debate the pros and cons of powerful AI chatbots like ChatGPT, almost every cybersecurity expert agrees that the floodgates have opened for cybercrimes, and the coming weeks will see a spike in online criminal activities.
“We're at an inflection point; the advent of easy-to-use, highly capable AI bots has forever changed the malware development landscape,” warns security analyst Joshua Long.
Time to tap the sun for cool ideas
It is happening in Kerala all over again. The mercury is rising, power consumption is going up, while dams are seeing a drop in water levels. The cycle has been repeating for decades and attempts to find alternate ways to generate electricity are yet to make an effective change in the situation. Still, the state has declared that it wants to have 100% renewable energy in the state energy basket by 2040.
The Agency for New and Renewable Energy Research and Technology (Anert), which leads the green energy projects in the state, says it is implementing an array of solar energy projects for both domestic and commercial buildings. But Anert CEO Narendra Nath Velluri says that more home builders should come forward to tap solar energy as technological improvements have made it cheaper and more aesthetically pleasing. He also says that feasibility studies are being done to have floating solar panels on reservoirs in Kerala to supplement the existing power generation in dams, a technology that is being adopted worldwide now, reports Bloomberg.
Bank collapse ripples to reach India also
It seems that there is no end to bad news from the startup world in the US, with the latest being the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB). Known as the financier of young entrepreneurs as traditional banks kept away, SVB had helped tens of thousands of startups since its inception in 1987. Authorities have taken control of the bank after it failed to raise funds, and NPR says the crisis could lead to mass layoffs or hundreds of startups collapsing. The ripples of the bank collapse, now billed as the largest American bank failure since the 2008 financial crisis, will be felt in India also, as around 20 startups have been linked to SVB. Garry Tan, president and CEO of the startup incubator Y Combinator, warned that a whole generation could be wiped out by this crisis. But the best summation of the emotions was done by Substack's Nadia Asparouhova, who wrote: “I don't want to live in a world where people can't do interesting things because they're told they're not rich enough to qualify for those dreams, or that their financial situations are too weird to fit the traditional banking system... I hope that dream continues to survive somewhere.”
Cheaper and portable MRI scanner approved
Life saving medical devices like X-ray machines and ultrasound scanners have undergone several changes over the decades, making them more portable and increasing their accessibility to millions. However, one device that has not changed much in its four decades of existence is the MRI system. That is, until now. The FDA has just cleared the world's first portable MRI system, designed to be wheeled to a hospital bedside for scanning a patient's head and brain, according to Fierce Biotech. In a statement, the inventor, Hyperfine Research, says its new machine costs 20 times less, and does not require trained technicians or separate hospital facilities. The FDA clearance includes head imaging for patients two years of age and older, and the company says it plans to begin shipments this year itself.
Just grunt and bear it for now
The next time you call someone a pig, remember that they also have feelings, as researchers in Europe have discovered. Researchers from Copenhagen and Paris used over 7,000 acoustic recordings of 411 pigs, from birth to death, to learn how to translate them into emotions. The study aimed to monitor their physiological health, and the team hopes that their work can help improve animal welfare in commercial and private farms in the future. The team says animal welfare today focuses almost exclusively on the physical health of livestock and proposes the use of automated systems to monitor the mental health of these animals.