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Can Deepfakes Be Used to Exploit User Verification Mechanisms? #NAMA

Biometric authentication and facial recognition have become commonplace methods for user verification. With the rise of deepfakes, it becomes important to keep track of potential ways they can be used to undermine such methods.

It is important to not restrict the discussions about deepfakes to dissemination of fake and misleading information and to also explore its impact on existing user verification mechanisms, experts highlighted at MediaNama’s event ‘Deep Fakes and Democracy’, on January 17, 2024.

Panellists Rakesh Maheshwari (Former Sr. Director and Group Coordinator, MeitY), Saikat Datta (CEO and Co-Founder of DeepStrat), Shivam Shankar Singh (Data Analyst and Campaign Consultant), Gautham Koorma (Researcher, UC Berkley School of Information), Tarunima Prabhakar (Co-Founder of Tattle Civic Technologies), and Jency Jacob (Managing Editor, Boom Fact Check) spoke about existing mechanisms to detect and attribute deepfakes and their inadequacies, role of platforms and regulators in preventing deepfakes, among other issues. Read the key highlights from the event here.

The panellists also briefly touched upon how deepfakes can be used to undermine identity verification processes, for example, biometric authentication—a verification method commonly used in India.

Can verification of social media users tackle deepfakes?

There has been a push for verification of social media users to tackle misinformation, attribute synthetic or AI-generated content, and combat other user harms such as the impact of child sexual abuse material, online abuse, etc. MediaNama Founder-Editor Nikhil Pahwa posed a question as to whether deepfakes can affect such verification mechanisms if they were to be established in the near future.

Saikat Dutta, the CEO and Co-founder of DeepStrat, was of the view that while we haven’t yet witnessed any instances of how deepfakes can be used to exploit the existing verification systems, the problem is imminent.

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“…I mean, this is still not exactly technically possible as of now, but not that I’m aware of. But because identity and verification, et cetera, is so critical from a regulatory perspective. For example, video KYC allows you to function, carry, create your UPI handle, so on and so forth. From a cyber-crimes perspective, from a fraud perspective, and from a verification perspective, [there are] major implications that we have to start wondering and thinking about,” Dutta stated.

Will deepfakes impact Aadhaar-based authentication systems?

Pahwa pointed out that in India, biometric authentication and facial recognition mechanisms are regularly deployed for various processes such as recording the attendance of government officials, teachers, students in educational institutions, etc. Further, multiple reports are revealing the modus operandi of cyber criminals who carry out financial fraud using cloned Aadhaar-based fingerprint records.

“Now, what does this do for a country that’s constantly reliant on biometric authentication for access to critical services, access to payment ecosystems? We’re seeing scams all across the board. Do deep fakes impact that situation?” Pahwa asked.

To which, Datta responded, “In my view, it will have a massive impact. And therefore, you see the whole infrastructure that we have built on ensuring that there is identity verification…video KYC is the first thing that comes to my mind. That itself now is threatened in a big way. So, how does a mature regulator like RBI deal with something like that? And RBI is one of the most mature and advanced regulators that we have in the country today. How does that play out?”

Biometric verification systems need to evolve with time

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Gautham Koorma highlighted that it was possible to clone fingerprint biometrics and that it was fairly easy to deceive or break traditional systems.

“Technicalities aside, biometric systems need to evolve. Biometrics are a good way to deal with a lot of these things, but once we put them in place, it doesn’t mean that they’re going to work forever. There are going to be people who are going to break it and these things continuously need to evolve. And there is research that is showing promising results for biometrics. This also brings in a big problem of real-time deepfake verification,” he added.

Increasing Aadhaar-enabled financial frauds in India have already proved that cloning Aadhaar biometrics and hacking the authentication mechanism is only getting easier for cybercrime perpetrators. Giving an example from the US about how people were able to join Zoom call interviews deepfaked as another person and were even getting the job, Koorma indicated the possibilities of how convincing these techniques can become in the coming years.

“So, we constantly need to talk about biometrics and authentication. And I think what we need to keep in mind is as these tools evolve and as the adversaries have more sophisticated methods, these biometric systems also need to evolve to keep at pace with them,” Koorma noted.

Watch the full discussion:

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Curious about the intersection of technology with education, caste and welfare rights. For story tips, please feel free to reach out at sarasvati@medianama.com

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