UK Company Robbed By Criminals Using AI Voice Trick
A shocking investigation conducted by The Wall Street Journal has revealed that cybercriminals successfully stole $243,000 USD by impersonating the voice of the chief executive of a UK based energy firm, and then requesting a transfer of funds over the phone. Unsurprisingly, experts in cybersecurity and cybercrime have named it as one of the most strange crimes ever committed using the power of artificial intelligence.
According to the investigation, the CEO of the UK firm thought he was talking over the phone with the chief executive of the energy company’s German parent company when he was told to wire the funds over to a so-called “supplier” in Hungary. The person on the other end made the task seem very urgent, repeatedly emphasising that the money must be send within the timeframe of just an hour. The company CEO, hearing the familiar mild German accent and voice patterns of his boss, suspected nothing.
The company CEO completed the transfer of funds to the supposed supplier in Hungary, with a promise that the funds would be reimbursed immediately. However, after some time, the money that was supposed to be reimbursed did not reappear in the company’s accounts, and another call came in from the “chief executive” demanding another urgent transfer of money. After this, the CEO became very suspicious, refusing to approve the second transfer.
As you can probably tell, it wasn’t the chief executive making the call. The transferred money was moved from Hungary to Mexico and other locations around the globe, and the relevant authorities have been unable, as of the time of writing, to name any suspects.
Rüdiger Kirsch is an expert in fraud at the insurance company Euler Hermes, which is covering the claim of the victim energy firm. He stated that this is the first every case he has encountered which involves this kind of AI-related crime, and that it will inevitably pose major problems for companies in the near future, as cybersecurity tools today aren’t prepared or even aware of the danger. He also mentioned that the criminals used commercially available voice-generation software to carry out the crime.
Philipp Amann, the head of strategy at Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre, emphasised that it’s very difficult to discern is this case is in fact the first incident, or if there are others which just haven’t been reported. Indeed, law enforcement and experts in AI are very aware of the rapidly expanding capabilities of voice technology, and that AI is likely to be the future frontier for fraud. Pindrop is a firm that makes security software and protocols for call centres. In 2018, it reported a 250% increase in voice fraud between the years 2013 and 2017, mainly to credit unions, banks, insurance companies, brokerage firms and card issuers.