FBI warns: Fake nude photos synthesized by AI are being used to commit extortion

The FBI recently warned that the trend of malicious actors producing deeply fake content to carry out sexual blackmail attacks is on the rise.

Sexual blackmail is one form of cyber extortion in which malicious actors threaten their targets by publicly leaking explicit images and videos obtained through theft or coercion, often by demanding hush money from those victims.

In many cases of sexual extortion, the leaked content is not actually real images, and the threatening actors simply pretend they have access to them for the ultimate purpose of extorting a ransom.

The FBI warns that sex extortionists are now collecting publicly available images of their extortion targets, such as innocuous images and videos posted on social media platforms. These images are then fed into a deep forgery content creation tool that transforms them into explicit pornographic content generated by artificial intelligence.

While none of the images or videos produced are real, they look so real that threat actors simply send the material to the family, co-workers, etc. of the blackmail target, most likely causing significant personal and reputational harm to the victim.

As of April 2023, the FBI has seen an increase in sexual blackmail victims reporting the use of fake images or videos that were created based on content they posted on social media sites or web pages, or captured in video chats.

According to recent victim reports, malicious actors typically:

1. demand payment (e.g., money, gift cards) and threaten to share the image or video with family or social media friends if funds are not received;

2. demand that victims send real sexually themed images or videos.

The FBI says there are some extortionists who skip the extortion part and post the created video directly to pornographic sites, exposing the victim to a large audience without their knowledge or consent. In some cases, sexual blackmailers will also use these public uploads to increase pressure on the victim to pay for the removal of the posted images/videos from the site.

The FBI reports that unfortunately this media manipulation activity also affects minors.

How to protect yourself?

Powerful AI content creation tools are iterating at high speed, providing convenience while creating a hostile environment for all Internet users, especially those in sensitive categories.

For example, there are multiple free content creation tool projects available through GitHub that can create realistic videos from a single image of a target face without additional training or data sets. Many of these tools have built-in protections against abuse, but those sold on underground forums and dark web marketplaces do not.

The FBI recommends that parents monitor their children's online activities and inform them of the risks of sharing personal information online. In addition, it is a good idea for parents to search the Internet every so often to determine how much exposure their children have online and to take action to remove content if necessary.

Adults who post pictures or videos online should limit viewing to a small, private circle of friends to reduce exposure. Also, the child's face should be blurred as much as possible.

Finally, if you find fake synthetic AI content related to you on a pornographic site, report it to the appropriate authorities and contact the hosting platform to request removal of the offending media.

The UK recently introduced a law in the form of an amendment to the Online Safety Bill that officially makes it a crime to share in-depth fakery without consent.