Tue, Jun 18, 2019 - Page 9 News List

Spies using AI-generated faces to connect with targets

While a computer-generated image of a face might fool the average LinkedIn user, experts say the signs of digital manipulation are easy to spot

By Raphael Satter  /  AP, LONDON

“I’m probably the worst LinkedIn user in the history of LinkedIn,” said Winfree, the former deputy director of US President Donald Trump’s domestic policy council, who confirmed connection with Jones on March 28.

Winfree, whose name came up last month in relation to one of the vacancies on the Fed’s Board of Governors, said he rarely logs on to LinkedIn and tends to just approve all the piled-up invites when he does.

“I literally accept every friend request that I get,” he said.

Lionel Fatton, who teaches East Asian affairs at Webster University in Geneva, said the fact that he did not know Jones did prompt a brief pause when he connected with her in March.

“I remember hesitating,” he said. “And then I thought: ‘What’s the harm?’”

Parello-Plesner noted that the potential harm can be subtle: Connecting to a profile like Jones’ invites whoever is behind it to strike up a one-on-one conversation, and other users on the site can view the connection as a kind of endorsement.

“You lower your guard and you get others to lower their guard,” he said.

The Jones profile was first flagged by Keir Giles, a Russia specialist with London’s Chatham House think tank. Giles was recently caught up in an entirely separate espionage operation targeting critics of the Russian antivirus firm Kaspersky Lab. So when he received an invitation from Jones on LinkedIn, he was suspicious.

She claimed to have been working for years as a “Russia and Eurasia fellow” at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, but Giles said that, if that were true, “I ought to have heard of her.”

CSIS spokesman Andrew Schwartz told reporters that “no one named Katie Jones works for us.”

Jones also claimed to have earned degrees in Russian studies from the University of Michigan, but the university said it was “unable to find anyone by this name earning these degrees from the university.”

The Jones account vanished from LinkedIn shortly after AP contacted the network seeking comment. Messages sent to Jones herself, via LinkedIn and an associated AOL e-mail account, went unreturned.

Numerous experts said that perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the Jones persona was her face, which they say appears to be artificially created.

Klingemann and other experts said that the photograph — a closely cropped portrait of a woman with blue-green eyes, copper-colored hair and an enigmatic smile — appeared to have been created using a family of dueling computer programs called generative adversarial networks, or GANs, that can create realistic-looking faces of entirely imaginary people. GANs, sometimes described as a form of artificial intelligence (AI), have been the cause of increasing concern for policymakers already struggling to get a handle on digital disinformation.

US lawmakers this month held their first hearing devoted primarily to the threat of artificially generated imagery.

Hao Li, who directs the Vision of Graphics Lab at the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies, reeled off a list of digital tells he believes show that the Jones photo was created by a computer program, including inconsistencies around Jones’ eyes, the ethereal glow around her hair and smudge marks on her left cheek.

“This is a typical GAN,” he said. “I’ll bet money on it.”

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