Canada's cyber espionage agency is warning that bad actors are planning to use artificial intelligence tools to sway the next federal election — and it won't be able to identify every deceptive deepfake video deployed.

The Communications Security Establishment (CSE) issued the alert in a new cyber threat report released Wednesday morning.

The foreign signals intelligence agency said "it's very likely" that foreign adversaries or "hacktivists" will use AI to influence voters ahead of Canada's next federal election.

"We assess that foreign adversaries and hacktivists are likely to weaponize generative AI within the next two years to create deepfake videos and images depicting politicians and government officials," says the report.

Deepfakes are fake videos manipulated digitally to appear real. The report did not cite any specific examples of deepfakes in Canada.

The agency — Canada's primary authority on cyber security —  cautioned it probably won't be able to stay on top of the sheer volume of deepfake videos it anticipates.

"We assess it very likely that the capacity to generate deepfakes exceeds our ability to detect them. Current publicly available detection models struggle to reliably distinguish between deepfakes and real content," the CSE says in its report.

"Given the ineffectiveness of deepfake detection models, and the increasing availability of generative AI, it is likely that influence campaigns using generative AI that target voters will increasingly go undetected by the general public."

There are thousands of deepfakes in circulation already that manipulate video clips of politicians, said CSE.

It pointed to a deepfake video that circulated online earlier this year that depicted U.S. President Joe Biden making an anti-transgender comment.

The intelligence agency warned that candidate debates could be prime targets for deepfakes.

"Political debates can be a source of crucial information for voters in the lead-up to the election since they present political party platforms and have been shown to change swing voters' candidate preferences. However, if cyber threat actors circulate deepfakes altering debate content, voters may be deceived," says the report.

"Even if the truth is made clear later on, the damage may lead voters to question the legitimacy of political debates in the future."

'Very little regulation' 

The report said social media platforms like Instagram and YouTube try to delete deepfake content but aren't always able to detect and remove it before it's widely circulated.

Removing videos is further complicated by a lack of regulation, the report adds.

"Political parties are themselves using generative AI capabilities as part of their campaigns, for example to create videos depicting 'future scenarios' if a political rival is elected," said the report.

"While disclaimers are used to identify the video as a deepfake, very little regulation currently exists in Canada and the U.S. on the extent to which generative AI can be used in political advertising."

"I will have to admit that this sounds very bleak," Communications Security Establishment Chief Caroline Xavier told reporters. 

"It's true that adversaries are seeking to manipulate our democratic processes. But that doesn't mean that we are powerless to stop them."

Xavier said the point of putting out this type of report is to make Canadians aware.

She also said her agency does have the legal power to disrupt potential attacks on Canada's election infrastructure.

CSE said that, unlike the United States and the United Kingdom, Canada isn't a prime target for deepfake campaigns, but it's not immune.

"We judge that cyber threat activity targeting democratic processes are likely viewed by foreign adversaries such as China and Russia as an obscure and risk-averse way of impacting Canada's policy outcomes," it said 

Defence Minister Bill Blair, whose portfolio includes the CSE, said social media companies have a responsibility to take false content down.

He also said "legitimate, independent journalism" plays a role in educating Canadians.

"I think we need to be able to distinguish that for Canadians and to support accurate information," he said.

2023-12-06T17:25:52Z dg43tfdfdgfd