McAfee Issues Warning of AI Voice Cloning Scams

By Greg Tavarez May 05, 2023

Nearly everyone can relate to that feeling of sending an audio message to a friend or family member when they do not feel like typing out a long text message that has a chance of failing at getting the main point or tone across. An audio message is quick and delivers the exact tone of the message, for better or worse (depending on the position the receiver is in).

However, it should be noted that using this method (no matter the social media platform) means that voice data is shared online, and there are risks associated with doing so.

As with any personal data, voice data is vulnerable to privacy and security concerns, including unauthorized access, misuse or hacking. Therefore, it is crucial for individuals to be cautious about what they share and with whom, as well as to use secure and reputable platforms and services to minimize these risks.

Cybercriminals see this trend and are looking at ways to clone how someone sounds. A prominent way to pull off that tactic is to adopt AI tools, which make it easy to manipulate the voices of friends and family members.

Well, that rules out the whole “Voice authentication is great at verifying user identification…” because 70% of adults are no longer confident that they could identify a fake email or call of someone in distress with cloned voice, according to a McAfee report.

It’s no surprise that the technique is gaining momentum. In fact, McAfee (News - Alert) figured out it is not difficult to clone a voice with the tools available to bad actors, which is a super worrying thought.

Over a period of three weeks, McAfee researchers examined AI voice-cloning tools for their accessibility, ease of use and effectiveness. They discovered more than a dozen such tools available for free on the internet that can be used with only a basic level of experience and expertise. Even three seconds of audio was enough to produce an 85% match in some instances, but more investment and effort can lead to greater accuracy, according to the survey. The researchers were able to achieve a 95% voice match with only a few audio files by training the data models.

The higher the accuracy of the voice clone, the greater the likelihood of a cybercriminal successfully duping someone into handing over their money or taking other actions. These types of hoaxes often rely on exploiting emotional vulnerabilities present in close relationships, and a scammer can make thousands of dollars in just a few hours. According to the survey, more than a third of people who’d lost money said it cost them over $1,000, while 7% were duped out of between $5,000 and $15,000.

“Artificial intelligence brings incredible opportunities, but with any technology there is always the potential for it to be used maliciously in the wrong hands,” said Steve Grobman, McAfee chief technology officer. “This is what we’re seeing today with the access and ease of use of AI tools helping cybercriminals to scale their efforts in increasingly convincing ways.”

For those growing a concern about AI voice cloning, McAfee did offer tips on how to stay protected.

Set a verbal codeword with kids, family members or trusted close friends that only they could know. With this codeword, make sure it is always used in calls, texts or emails.

Another tip is to always question the source. Stop, pause and think. Does that really sound like them? Would they ask this? Hang up and call the person directly or try to verify the information before responding and certainly before sending money.

Also, be mindful about friends and online connections. Remember, the wider the connections and the more that is shared only raises the risk of having an identity cloned for malicious purposes.

AI is changing the game for everyone. And yes, that includes cybercriminals. Voice cloning is real, and that requires everyone to stay on guard and take precautions, like those provided by McAfee, to avoid falling victim to scams.

Edited by Alex Passett
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