According to Nielsen’s India Internet Report 2023, India’s internet-using population will surpass 720 million in December 2022, making it vulnerable to a new type of voice-based cyber scam in which scammers use artificial intelligence to replicate user voices and exploit them in cyberattacks on unsuspecting individuals.
In a 1 May report, McAfee reported that 47% of Indian users had either encountered or knew someone who had fallen victim to AI voice copying frauds in January-March. The rise of AI voice-cloning scams coincides with an increase in interest in generative AI, in which algorithms receive user inputs in text, image, or speech formats and synthesize answers based on user queries and the specific platform.
For instance, on January 9, Microsoft released Vall-E, a generative AI-based voice simulator capable of recreating a user’s voice and generating responses with the user’s unique intonation using only a three-second audio sample. Other similar tools, such as Sensory and Resemble AI, are also available. Scammers are now using these tools to defraud consumers, with Indians topping the global victim list.
According to McAfee data, although up to 70% of Indian users are likely to respond to a voice question from friends and relatives seeking financial assistance by mentioning thefts, accidents, and other emergencies, this proportion drops to 33% in Japan and France, 35% in Germany, and 37% in Australia. Indian users were also at the top of the list of people who routinely shared some form of their voice on social media platforms, whether it was in the form of material in short films or voice notes in chat groups. Scammers are taking advantage of this by extracting user speech data, feeding it to AI algorithms, and generating cloned voices to carry out financial scams.
According to Steve Grobman, McAfee’s chief technology officer, while targeted scams are not new, “the availability and access to advanced artificial intelligence tools is, and that’s changing the game for cybercriminals.” According to the survey, 77% of all AI speech frauds result in some type of success for the scammers. In the first three months of this year, more than one-third of all victims of AI voice scams lost more than $1,000, with 7% losing up to $15,000.
To be sure, security experts have cautioned that the arrival of generative AI will usher in new types of security vulnerabilities. Mark Thurmond, global chief operating officer of the US-based cyber security firm Tenable, told Mint on March 16 that generative AI will “open the door for potentially more risk, as it lowers the bar in regard to cyber criminals.” He went on to say that AI dangers like voice-cloning in phishing attempts will broaden the “attack surface,” leading to more attacks.