The combination of a tight presidential election in 2024 that could be decided by hundreds of thousands of votes in a handful of states and generative artificial intelligence tools has one cybersecurity expert worried.
“I’m most concerned about the misinformation and disinformation that happens way, way, way down the line. If you think about it, there’s really only a handful of precincts in battleground states, or in states that make a difference in the balance of power,” said Michael Kaiser, president and CEO of Defending Digital Campaigns (DDC), a non-partisan, non-profit group that provides cybersecurity support to federal campaigns.
“What if someone puts a fake video on a community list serve? They’re the only people that are going to see that initially, unless somebody [alerts the press],” he said. “That’s where I’m most concerned.”
Deepfake technology has been around for years — remember the famous video of President Obama from 2018 — but as the end product of these videos has improved, it could be part of a barrage of fake content target to voters in crucial areas of the country in 2024.
Other experts have also sounded the alarm over AI-powered fake content and its potential impact on the 2024 cycle. Berkeley professor Hany Farid told NPR in July that technology to take a candidate’s voice is now easily accessible.
“You can go over to a commercial website, and for $5 a month you can clone anybody’s voice,” Farid said. “And then you type, and you have them say anything you want. And so I think it’s very likely that we will see this continue.”
For Kaiser, the threat from AI is less a Terminator-style rise of the machines and more a pipeline of very realistic faked content — think everything from donation request emails linked to a cyber criminal’s account, or an embarrassing social media post — in addition to videos that could distribute disinformation.
“This will happen,” he said. “Photoshop and dirty tricks in politics have been around for a long time. AI will accelerate that. The tools are better. They’re faster.”
Kaiser pointed out that bad actors can range from cyber criminals to dirty tricksters to nation states looking to influence the outcome of an American election. Each has their own motivation. Kaiser and DDC are focused on protecting federal campaigns free of charge from being hacked, but his group is also looking to extend its expertise further down-ballot.
That said, he noted that having rigorous cyber security protections in place doesn’t require spending a lot of money.
“There’s a lot of stuff people can do for free,” he said, pointing to steps like activating Google’s advanced protection program or submitting a request to the search engine to have personal information removed and turning on multi-factor identification on all platforms.
“You don’t always have to equate cybersecurity with money,” said Kaiser. “That is part of the misnomer that we try to educate people about because everybody’s thinking, ‘Oh, well, I don’t have money for cybersecurity.’ And I’m like, ‘Well, for some stuff you don’t have money.’”
DDC also publishes a list of resources here on its website.