Maps May Soon Be Less Trustworthy Than Ever
Did you know that maps as we know them are remarkably skewed? Due to some centuries-old superiority complexes and prejudices, the maps we’ve all been raised looking at have never been completely accurate. However, this problem could soon be an element of cybercrime thanks to a developing technology that many have yet to take seriously, deepfake images, and how they could revolutionize cyberattacks moving forward.
What Are Deepfakes?
Deepfakes are manipulated images or videos that have been altered to revise the truth with the assistance of artificial intelligence. The Internet is full of lighthearted examples, where a comedian’s face is changed during an interview to be replaced with the celebrity who they are impersonating, or different actors are cast in classic movies. Mobile applications that allow you to create a rough lip-synch video from a still image are growing in popularity.
Of course, there are much more convincing examples of deepfake technology that we can point to. For instance: This Person Does Not Exist. This website pulls the results of a generative adversarial network trying to create the most convincing face it can possibly generate. Each time that page is refreshed, a new face pops up that looks just like a real person—despite no such person actually existing.
While these applications are quite entertaining, they undermine the real risks that deepfakes pose to security. Explicit deepfakes are already being generated that depict people in assorted adult situations without their consent to be used in blackmailing schemes. Deepfakes have also been spread to manipulate political impressions and sway the tides of some elections.
Unfortunately, there is an additional threat that these doctored images are now being used to support: geographic deepfakes.
What is a Geographic Deepfake?
Instead of manipulating someone’s face or the words they say, geographic deepfakes alter satellite imagery to manipulate our impression of the landscape and what is present. With deepfake technology as a whole improving all the time, geographic deepfakes could create some serious problems for businesses and governments alike.
How a Geographic Deepfake Could be Abused
Let’s run through a potential scenario for a moment, just to illustrate how serious this threat is:
A platoon of soldiers are out in the field, advancing on a target. All they need to do is reach a bridge that will take them to their objective. Satellite imaging shows a clear path to the bridge, but once the platoon reaches it, they actually find themselves face-to-face with the enemy, who has taken the bridge and created an ambush for them to walk right into—or perhaps they find no enemy troops, but also no bridge for them to cross… ruining their plan, and possibly many others that were contingent upon it. This latter possibility was actually proposed in 2019 by a National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency analyst named Todd Myers, as it draws from a tactic as old as cartography itself.
Maps Have Always Been Manipulated
History is full of times where maps have played a key role in disinformation campaigns and propaganda alike, in addition to providing a form of copyright protection for cartographers. By changing some details of a map—occasionally making up features and towns that didn’t actually exist there—a mapmaker could easily identify if their work had been copied.
Geographic deepfakes could simply add an additional level of complexity to such efforts, as the University of Washington recently explored in an academic study.
In this study, the researchers abbreviate the very long history of map manipulation and embellishment, starting from the Babylonian 5th century B.C. but focusing much more closely on the modern applications. Things like location spoofing and how they’re weaponized were covered, with practical examples provided by the researchers that they generated as a proof of concept. As a whole, the study makes it clear that such capabilities are very real, and very easy to abuse, but certainly not easy to identify when they are in use.
Exacerbating the issue further, most people don’t think to second-guess the maps they see, making these threats all the more dangerous. Furthermore, while the researchers were able to create a tool that could identify the deepfakes they generated, such tools will need to be updated constantly to keep up with the improvements that those who abuse these tools are sure to implement.
What Can Be Learned?
While these threats aren’t likely to come into mainstream use for some time yet, it pays off to predict how they could impact you in the future. Just think about the missing bridge example… What if the same concept was used on the supply chain, or on your business directly?
Furthermore, since cyberattacks often inspire others, an imaginative cybercriminal could very well come up with some other devious ways to use these capabilities.
For now, the best course of action is to take every opportunity to secure your business as best you can with the help of today’s technology solutions. While ignoring developing threats like the potential of deepfakes is shortsighted, overlooking present ones is worse.
Jackson Thornton Technologies is here to help you secure your technology. To find out what we’ll do for you, give us a call at 334-834-7660 and have a chat with us about your business.
Tip of the Week: Three Steps to Better Backups
Because of the protection it can offer your organization, data backup is a necessary tool for you to have—that is, provided it has the requisite security and reliability you’ll need should you ever have to lean on it. Let’s go over a few guidelines to help you be sure that your backup is trustworthy enough to stake your business’ future on.
A Good Data Backup Means More Than One Copy
Let me put it this way: how useful is a backup that was also destroyed in some disaster, along with the original copy of your data? In short… it isn’t. There is a non-zero chance that something could make your backups unavailable to you, so you need to have a backup backup plan, stored someplace separate from your other backup or the original data.
A Good Backup Means Keeping Your Backups Safe
If you’re around any of us at Jackson Thornton Technologies for any length of time, you’ll see how seriously we take data security around here. Failing to properly secure your backups is a rookie mistake to make, as it contains exactly the same data that your default data storage does. Therefore, it is crucial that you make sure these copies are just as securely protected.
A Good Data Backup Contains More Than One Version
While cybercriminals have taken to showing their hand earlier and earlier, this isn’t always how they operate. Sometimes, they prefer to work in the background, corrupting your data—and any backups taken of it—for some time. Therefore, it is wise to keep a few copies of your data going back a ways. That way, should you need to restore your data, you are more likely to have a copy from before the infiltration occurred.
Maintaining a Backup Takes Strategy. Let Us Help.
Establishing a good data backup and implementing the processes to make it seamless will take a fair amount of time. While this would not be time wasted by any stretch, it can be hard to reconcile that with the opportunities you could miss as a result.
Jackson Thornton Technologies is the best option for the business that needs assistance with their IT in the Southeast. Hand off the responsibility of taking care of your backup to us. Focus your energies on growing your business… we’ll make sure it’ll still be there and ready. Call us at 334-834-7660 today.
What We Can Learn from Coca-Cola’s Insider Trade Secret Theft
Your business’ data is perhaps its most crucial resource—which is why it is so important that it remains protected against all threats (including those that come from within your own business). Consider, for a moment, the ongoing trial of Xiaorong You, going on in Greenville, Tennessee. Accused of stealing trade secrets and committing economic espionage, You allegedly stole various BPA-free technologies from various companies—including Coca-Cola and the Eastman Chemical Company, amongst others—to the tune of $119.6 million.
Let’s consider how the implementation of insider threat detection methods could have minimized the damages that You allegedly inflicted on these companies.
Xiaorong “Shannon” You, a naturalized US citizen and PhD in Polymer Science and Engineering, has worked in the industry since 1992. From December of 2012 to August of 2017, she worked for Coca-Cola as a principal engineer for global research, moving to the Eastman Chemical Company to work as a packaging application development manager from September of 2017 until June of 2018, when her employment was terminated.
During her tenure at both companies, You had access to secrets that a limited number of employees were privy to. In the case of Coca-Cola’s secrets, You had retained them (despite affirming that she hadn’t in writing) and submitted them to the People’s Republic of China as part of her application for the country’s The Thousand Talents program in 2017. This program has been used before to introduce advanced technologies to China, with the Department of Justice having had some success in prosecuting these cases.
What Xiaorong You Allegedly Did
According to the case that You now faces, she retained this information by simply uploading data to her personal Google Drive account—or when dealing with particularly sensitive documents and physical lab equipment, she simply used her smartphone’s camera to capture images (bypassing the scrutiny of her employers’ information security teams). Once she had secured this information, You worked with a Chinese national named Xiangchen Liu to form a company in China that would use these trade secrets to generate its own profits, using an Italian BPA-free manufacturer to incorporate the stolen technologies onto their own products.
The theft of this technology has had an impact on various companies, including Coca-Cola and the Eastman Chemical Company, as well as AkzoNobel, Dow Chemical, PPG, TSI, Sherwin Williams, and ToyoChem.
Originally brought up on charges involving the theft of trade secrets in Tennessee’s Eastern US District Court in February of 2019, You was subject to another indictment in August 2020 that filed charges of economic espionage.
How You’s Employers Could Have Stopped Such Activities
Let’s take another look at some of the dates we just went over:
You’s employment at Coca Cola ended in August of 2017, while her indictment for crimes that allegedly took place during her time there didn’t happen until February of 2019. This suggests that the discovery of her activities at Coca-Cola didn’t occur until long after the fact.
This fact is indicative of two reasonable hypotheses:
1. Coca-Cola lacked the tools to detect such activities in real-time, making it far more difficult to prevent protected and sensitive data from successfully leaving the corporate environment.
2. Coca-Cola also lacked the policies that could have prevented non-authorized devices from entering the workspace or otherwise being kept in proximity to sensitive company data or infrastructures. While old-fashioned, the concept of taking photographs of such information is no less effective for its age.
By comparison, You’s considerably rapid termination from the Eastman Chemical Company would suggest that their data protection standards were much more robust than Coca-Cola’s were at the time, enabling the company to identify a security issue and properly investigate it much faster.
Just imagine how much the total damages—which now equate to about $119.6 million, as a reminder—could have inflated if Eastman Chemical weren’t able to catch You’s alleged activities so quickly.
It unfortunately goes to show how anyone given the opportunity in tandem with the right motivation—in this case, recognition and financial windfall—could become a serious threat to any company’s data. This means that every company should have the tools in place to prevent these activities as often as possible, as well as the means to catch them if they are to take place.
Jackson Thornton Technologies is here to help facilitate that. Our remote monitoring and management services can help catch any suspicious activity on your business’ network, preventing both internal and external threats from taking root. We can also help keep your data on a need-to-know basis, preventing more data leaks—accidental or otherwise.
Learn more about how our solutions can assist you by calling 334-834-7660 today.