Cybercriminals in Europe have stolen nearly a quarter of a million dollars from a UK-based energy company by using the AI-generated voice of the firm's German parent company's CEO to authorize the money transfer.
AI-generated deepfake audio used to steal $243,000
In one of the first reported cases of its kind, cyberthieves have used the AI-generated voice of a German CEO to convince the CEO of a UK-based subsidiary company to make a fraudulent transfer of nearly a quarter of a million dollars, the Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend. The $243,000 transfer was purported to be a payment to a Hungarian supplier and the UK CEO, believing that he was speaking with his German boss, made the transfer as requested.
The companies involved have not been identified.
The AI used to create the audio deepfake was convincing enough, according to the report, that the UK CEO genuinely believed that he was speaking to his boss, fooled by the sophisticated mimicry that reproduced the slight accent of his boss as well as the "melody of his voice." After the transfer, the funds were moved to Mexico and then to other countries, making the funds harder to track. No suspects have been identified.
Three phone calls is all it took
The thieves placed three phone calls in total. The first call was the original request for the $243,000 payment, which the UK CEO was told would be reimbursed by the parent company within the hour. The second phone call told the UK CEO that the reimbursement had been sent and the third call was to ask for another transfer from the UK company. Since no reimbursement had been sent and the third phone call was coming from an Austrian phone number, the UK CEO became suspicious of the request and didn't send to the second transfer.
Police are not sure whether a chatbot was used to respond to the UK CEO's questions during the phone calls, but the possibility that the entire theft could have been automated should send chills up the spines of anyone with a telephone, as criminals appear to have a powerful new tool to trick people out of their hard-earned money.