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How can generative AI influence this year’s elections?

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There are over 60 countries hosting elections this year, with approximately 20 elections taking place in Africa. While South Africa awaits the announcement of the election date, political parties’ campaigning will progressively intensify, with artificial intelligence (AI) expected to play a significant role.

It’s predicted that recent advancements in generative AI will make it increasingly difficult for people to discern between fake news and misleading information. The World Economic Forum has even identified misinformation powered by generative AI as a top risk facing the world in 2024.

Over the past year, numerous examples have surfaced of AI tools being used to create fake images and videos of well-known public figures. For instance, images of Pope Francis in a white puffer coat and former US President Donald Trump being arrested circulated the internet in early 2023. More recently, a sexually explicit deepfake video of Taylor Swift was circulating online, prompting the social media platform to halt searches for the pop star to prevent the video from spreading. Given their realistic appearance, AI-generated media aimed at influencing public opinion is cause for concern.

Spotting the difference:

While these images and videos may appear very realistic at first glance, closer inspection reveals telltale signs of imperfection. AI-generated content often exhibits flaws, such as inconsistencies in the subject’s hands or incomplete objects. Images may also display an inconsistent quality, appearing blurry with a glossy effect. In AI-generated videos, individuals often fail to blink and exhibit unnatural movements.

While programs are being developed to detect whether images and videos are real or not, it largely falls to audiences to discern their authenticity. Before forwarding an image or video to a WhatsApp family group or sharing it on social media, consider whether it may be AI-generated or genuine. Verify the source and reliability of the content.

Remaining vigilant:

As the country prepares for the elections, cybercriminals are exploring various ways to exploit this opportunity. National elections are major events that cybercriminals may target to collect personal information. With the assistance of generative AI, social engineering scams are becoming more sophisticated. Trend Micro’s latest research suggests that AI-generated media will lead to more polished and persuasive phishing scams.

Leading up to the elections, South Africans are urged to verify their voter registration status. The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) enables voters to register online via elections.org.za and check their registration details by entering their ID number on the website.

During this period, an increase in SMS and email phishing scams may occur, with malicious actors impersonating the IEC to obtain personal information such as ID numbers, addresses, and phone numbers. Therefore, it’s crucial to exercise caution and refrain from clicking on links in unsolicited emails, messages, or social media posts.

Rather than clicking on unknown links, manually enter the website address into your browser. Ensure that the website is secure by checking for a padlock icon next to the URL or confirming that the link begins with “https.” If uncertain, contact the IEC directly to verify the website address.

Additionally, ensure that your device’s security software is up to date to scan for any malicious activity. While the risks associated with generative AI are still being understood, maintaining vigilance and staying informed about potential threats can help mitigate risks and ensure online safety and security.

By Zaheer Ebrahim, Solutions Architect at Trend Micro MEA.

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