Chinese hackers increasingly using AI to interfere in elections – report

China is increasingly turning to artificial intelligence (AI) powered forms of misinformation to interfere in foreign elections, according to a new report from Microsoft.

Deepfakes and other forms of AI-generated content are reportedly being deployed by Beijing to meddle in the affairs of the United States and Taiwan, with the research finding specific examples of manipulated imagery being pushed to fuel conspiracy theories that the US government intentionally caused a train derailment in Kentucky and wildfires in Maui, Hawaii in 2023.

With geopolitical tensions between Taiwan and China ongoing, the recent elections in the East Asian island provided the backdrop for interference. Microsoft detailed in the report how it observed Chinese actors creating AI-generated news broadcasts with fake presenters to spread misinformation to influence the elections.

Some of the content was said to be made using CapCut, an AI editing tool owned by ByteDance, the same parent company of TikTok which is currently the subject of action from US lawmakers with proposed legislation to effectively ban the popular video-hosting app in the states.

On the interference in Taiwan, the report noted “This was the first time Microsoft Threat Intelligence has witnessed a nation-state actor using AI content in attempts to influence a foreign election.”

Examples of Chinese hackers’ disinformation tactics

The campaign also honed in on individuals, with Microsoft finding “a notable uptick” in material featuring political figures in Taiwan, including prominent politicians such as Lai Ching-te. The president-elect and leading light in the country’s pro-independence party was at the center of various dirty tricks, including AI-generated memes showing him being charged and the party mired in corruption.

Another video depicted a woman claiming Lai had several mistresses and illegitimate children.

China-based campaigns are also said to have used sockpuppet social media accounts to create noise around topical issues such as climate change, immigration, and US foreign policy in Ukraine and Israel. Impersonation of American voters and the use of online polls to better understand the US electorate are tools being used for further exploitation ahead of the presidential election later this year.

However, the Microsoft report does not conclude the current level of AI-inspired disinformation is a game changer or of critical impact.

Image credit: Ideogram

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Graeme Hanna