WASHINGTON (CN) – The ability of those with bad intentions to swap a person’s face or voice in a recording for another is a threat the intelligence community must tackle before the November mid-term elections, Senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla., told members of the Senate Intelligence Committee Tuesday.
So-called “Deepfakes” technology allows a programmer to take details from one person’s face and combine them with those of another in a digital image.
In the hands of a deft programmer, and combined with voice modification software, the technology can be used to craft a custom message that is unrecognizable as bogus to an unsuspecting member of the general public.
The potential use of such technology to target politicians represents “the next wave of attacks on western democracy,” Rubio said.
The Florida Republican’s comments came during the confirmation hearing for William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, an offshoot of the Office for the Director of National Intelligence.
Evanina has been director of the center since 2014, and he’s considered a shoe-in for confirmation under a change in policy requires the position holder to receive Senate approval.
The new level of oversight by the Senate is a by-product of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election. But it was the nefarious use of technology, rather than confirmation process, that dominated the hearing on Tuesday.
Rubio said deepfakes technology “could be used to produce fake videos of American politicians using racial epithets or taking a bribe … it could be used to show a U.S. soldier massacring civilians overseas or a U.S. official admitting a secret plan to some conspiracy theory or a fake video [could be made] of a prominent official discussing an impending disaster, setting off a panic,” Rubio said.
“Imagine a video like that delivered on the eve of an election in a culture who has a bias toward believing outrageous things, a media that is quick to promulgate it and social media, where its spread can’t be stopped,” the senator said.
Evanina responded by telling Rubio he wasn’t aware of deepfakes technology, but assured the lawmaker the intelligence community is “actively working to understand the complexities of its adversaries.”
A “predictive analysis” of threats the intelligence community might face during midterm elections this fall, and during the 2020 election, is underway, he added.
Rubio wasn’t mollified. Instead, he noted that images created with deepfakes technology — he pointed to FakeApp, specifically — are becoming ever more realistic and easier to spread through social media platforms like Reddit.
“I can only image what a nation state would do with this,” Rubio said.
Evanina assured the committee that defendant the United States against cyber attacks would continue to dominate the intelligence community’s concerns.
He went on to say he has “no doubt” that Russian actors interfered in the 2016 election, and that he believes the Kremlin will continue attacking the United States.
Evanina also suggested that China should be watched closely, and he expressed some reservations on President Donald Trump’s decision to try to bolster ZTE, the Chinese mobile device manufacturer.
The Defense Department has banned the sale of ZTE phones at military exchanges, and last month the Commerce Department imposed its own ban on ZTE products after discovering the company broke with sanctions and illegally shipped goods to Iran and North Korea.
Evanina noted that he is on record, along with federal law enforcement officials, as declaring that Chinese telecommunication giants like ZTE used their devices to spy on Americans, a practice that poses a threat to both “national and economic security.”
Evanina said he made his concerned known to the White House in recent days, but did not elaborate.