Earlier this year the media blitzed the public with the quantum leap in AI development and applications affordable to the public and, most notably, the ability to create convincing deepfakes.
The software at the forefront is ChatGPT, a $10 billion project by Microsoft, is one of several being rolled out in which the speed of its popularity among users will soon make it an ubiquitous and indelible component of the virtual landscape.
This warp-speed popularity is articulated in the following chart provided by Business Insider/LinkedIn entitled ChatGPT Sprints to One Million Users:
Dark Web Tools Emerge
However, unlike its popular predecessors, ChatGPT along with other similar software designed to create deepfakes, are affordable software tools that can easily be “weaponized” for an exceptionally wide-range of nefarious purposes whether against neighbors, co-workers, corporations or governments.
It represents a quantum leap that present-day cyber-security tools lag far behind in combatting this potential threat forcing the “white hats” to undertake a technical tactical retreat and limiting them, for the moment, to mitigating the damage while bolstering disaster recovery protocols.
Deep Fake Deception
Of the plethora of ways deepfakes can be used by online scammers is to use such deepfake software to target a highly vulnerable and rapidly growing demographic - citizenry with cognitive problems.
With evermore Baby Boomers retiring with bulging assets thanks to the unprecedented bull market in the 21st century, the greatest transfer of wealth in human history is underway in the form of inheritance to the next generations. Furthermore, the Baby Boomers are now reaching the age in which they are far more susceptible to dementia and other cognitive problems.
This represents an unprecedented target-rich demographic who are socially more vulnerable. Aging Baby Boomers often have family yet live alone in large part to hyper-urbanization. For this reason, they suffer from isolation, depression and loneliness all of which exacerbates and accelerates cognitive decline.
This aging demographic trend is most acute in developed and wealthier countries particularly Japan, China, South Korea, Europe and the US with many forcibly becoming urban hermits.
Deep Fakes | The Virtual Opioid
Not all of the elderly may have cognitive issues but the isolation and loneliness make them far more susceptible to deep fake scams particularly if they use virtual entertainment as a substitute for lack of human contact. Senior citizens with even mild dementia, as any close family member and/or caregiver is intimately aware, have difficulty distinguishing between fantasy and reality.
In a Wall Street Journal article 29 January 2023 entitled Many Seniors Are Lonely, Tech Can Help With That, the Pew Research stated that the US has the highest percentage of older adults living alone which can lead to health problems, dementia and depression. For this reason, Big Tech is offering virtual reality and robotic pets that mitigate, not solve, these in situ aging problems.
Exacerbating this trend is that during the 1990s, electronic devices like laptops and mobiles were expensive and simply nice things to have. The dramatic change in the computer marketplace with superior manufacturing cost efficiencies made electronic devices affordable to everyone. For this reason, private industry and government agencies streamlined their services eliminating in-person or human communications and transactions.
Moving forward, near-future interactive virtual services will be a requirement. This creates a virtual landscape where seniors are unfamiliar and uncomfortable thus become extremely vulnerable to bad actors posing as the proverbial virtual knights in shining armor offering assistance.
Worldwide Demographic Detonation
A comprehensive overview on global decrepitude and the associated exponentially growing dementia trend are articulated in my article entitled Dementia | The Next Global Contagion and published on 31 December 2022 that provides an overview of this growing vulnerability.
Furthermore, the present-day global population suffering from cognitive problems is probably grossly under-estimated. There are millions who are not yet 60 years old who are misdiagnosed. Doctors mistakenly believe the patient’s cognitive problems are temporary as a result of stress or medication. The tragic story of actor Bruce Willis is a prime example.
The following chart entitled The World’s Population by Age Group provided by the UN World Population Prospects 2019 and furnished by Visual Capitalist, gives a striking visual image of the global aging demographic trends.
The following chart entitled The World’s Oldest Populations provided by the UN Population Division presents a breakdown by country comparison of citizens over 65 in 2022 and the projected percentage of the same population in 2050, just over a generation in the future. However, the “longevity bonus” is offset by the greater increase in cognitive diseases.
According to the NY Times article 27 November 2022 entitled “As Gen X and Boomers, They Confront Living Alone” provide the following trends in the US:
· 1960 13% of households had a single occupant.
· 2022: 30% of households has a single occupant.
· 26 million Americans over 50 live alone 2022 up from 15 million in 2000, a mere 22 years later.
US Cyber-Crime Trend
The following chart entitled The Internet Crime Business is Booming provided by the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center indicates the exponentially increasing financial losses by victims.
The following chart entitled The Costliest Types of Crime provided by the FBI Internet Crime Report 2021 indicates the specific types of internet crimes that are committed.
Worldwide Cyber-Crime Trend
Worldwide the projected trend of cyber-crime is expected to explode in the forthcoming years putting unusual strain on cyber-security firms to plug the leaks. Underscoring the overwhelming tsunami of cyber-attacks, many cyber-security firms have focused on protecting only the client’s Crown Jewels bycreating a smaller footprint with higher walls. The following chart entitled Cybercrime Expected to Skyrocket in the Coming Years provided by Statista Technology Market Outlook, National Cyber Security Organizations, FBI and IMF.
The following chart entitled US Prefers Low-Tech Approach to High-Tech Security provided by Securitry.org underscores how present-day Americans are using low-tech methods as a first line of defense to protect their data:
Global Implications | China’s Anti-Cyber-Crime Methods
Although Japan’s aging demographic precedes China’s by about 10 years, China’s far greater and aging population represents a security risk at the individual level.
According to Chinese census data, China is projected to have one-third of population over 60 years old by 2050. Present-day there are 54 million Chinese over 65 years old who are unmarried, divorced or widowed which exacerbates loneliness and thirst for, if not companionship, certainly attention. The one child policy and its brutal transformation into an urban environment discourages the traditional, multigenerational family living under the same roof.
Interestingly China has been quite aggressive with international scammers of Chinese nationality through Operation Fox Hunt initiated in 2014. According to the article in The Economist 18 February 2023 entitled How China’s Police are Ensnaring Thousands of Suspects Abroad, the initial objective was to repatriate corrupt Chinese officials living overseas.
This notably aggressive operation has been greatly expanded to include online scammers operating abroad robbing Chinese citizens. According to this article, such online scams have created an enormous resentment among the Chinese citizenry far greater than domestic government and private industry corruption.
Conclusion & Takeaways
The late middle age and elderly are the target-rich demographic for cyber-criminals particularly those living in wealthier countries who have a high savings rate yet higher rates of loneliness and dementia problems.
There are unofficial and informal practices and considerations in the financial and banking industry in combatting this issue by using AI or other powerful software to recognize unusual money transfers that deviate from patterned financial behavior of senior citizens’ accounts as a possible red flag of early cognitive issues.
The next level defense against such attacks would be “fighting fire with fire” by utilizing AI to recognize deepfakes.
Furthermore, another protective method for many industries that store sensitive data is to establish robust multi-verification protocols before a request for sensitive information or financial transfer is authorized.
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The Cerulean Council is a NYC-based think-tank that provides prescient, beyond-the-horizon, contrarian perspectives and risk assessments on geopolitical dynamics and global urban security.