AI's rising role in online influence campaigns yet to make a significant impact, says US cybersecurity firm Mandiant

JJohn August 17, 2023 5:03 PM

US cybersecurity company Mandiant has observed an increasing use of artificial intelligence (AI) for manipulative online information campaigns recently. However, its impact on other digital intrusions remains limited so far.

Increased use of AI in information campaigns

Mandiant, a cybersecurity firm owned by Google, has noticed a growing trend of AI being utilized in online information campaigns designed to manipulate public opinion. This rising use of AI for such purposes has been observed in recent years, demonstrating the technology's potential in this field. However, it's noteworthy that AI's role in other forms of digital intrusions remains limited.

The researchers identified numerous instances since 2019 where content generated through AI, such as fabricated profile pictures, was used in online influence campaigns with political motivations. These campaigns were orchestrated by groups from a wide range of countries, including Russia, China, Iran, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Cuba, Argentina, Mexico, Ecuador, and El Salvador. This indicates the global nature of AI's application in such practices.

Security concerns over generative AI models

There's been a recent surge in the use of generative AI models, like ChatGPT, that make it easier to create convincing fake content such as videos, images, text, and computer code. While this development has enabled the production of high-quality fake content at scale, it has also raised concerns among security officials. They have issued warnings about the potential of such models being exploited by cybercriminals.

An example of the expanding use of AI in online influence campaigns is the Chinese state-linked information campaign named Dragonbridge. This campaign has grown exponentially across 30 social platforms and 10 languages since it initially targeted pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong in 2019. This wide expansion illustrates the potential of AI in facilitating large-scale influence campaigns.

Limited impact of AI-driven campaigns

Despite the extensive use of AI in online influence campaigns, their overall impact seems to be limited. According to Sandra Joyce, vice president at Mandiant Intelligence, these AI-driven campaigns haven't significantly altered the existing threat landscape. Their effectiveness, as it stands, is minimal, suggesting that AI's influence in this particular domain is yet to reach its full potential.

AI's role in threats from specific nations

Although AI's use in online influence campaigns is rising, Mandiant has not yet witnessed this technology playing a substantial role in digital threats originating from countries such as Russia, Iran, China, or North Korea. However, the firm anticipates that the problem of AI's misuse in these areas is likely to grow over time.

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