After unidentified criminals used AI-assisted audio deepfakes to steal more than $240,000, former Coinbase CTO Balaji Srinivasan suggested that blockchain-enabled phones could be the solution to call authentication.
While Srinivasan himself said that the technology is yet to come to life, many argued that such security measures already exist and don’t need blockchain at all.
AI-assisted audio deepfakes claim their first victims
Deepfakes have claimed their first victims as the world still has trouble wrapping their head around the crisis. According to a report from the Wall Street Journal, criminals used AI-based software to impersonate a chief executive’s voice and demand a fraudulent transfer of more than $240,000.
Thinking he was speaking to his boss, a CEO of a German energy company complied with the request and wired the funds. The fraud was detected only after the CEO realized that he was getting two simultaneous phone calls—one from his actual boss and the other from the thieves.
Euler Hermes, the insurer of the unidentified company, said that it has come across at least three cases of voice fraud made with AI-powered deepfake technology. Cybersecurity firm Symantec told the Washington Post that at least one of the cases resulted in “millions of dollars in losses.
In a Twitter thread, Srinivasan suggested implementing a two-factor authentication system for phone calls, which could include the speaker’s voice and their cryptographic signature. This, he explained, could be done via blockchain phones, where crypto wallets would be used to provide “a new kind of caller ID.”
With deepfake audio, a call itself can be realistically faked in the voice of the CEO.
Long term, this could mean blockchain phones where your crypto wallet is used to provide a new kind of caller ID via digital signature.
2FA for phone calls: your voice and your signature? https://t.co/MzEFYDETVo
— Balaji S. Srinivasan (@balajis) September 8, 2019
Ummmm. How about simply not trusting a phone call?
— James R. Bergsten (@jrbergsten) September 8, 2019
Addressing the problem of security
Srinivasan’s calls for implementing greater security measures in phone calls got a lot of positive comments from the crypto community. Dozens of users shared their ideas on how this could be done efficiently. Vitalik Buterin, the co-founder of Ethereum, joined the conversation saying security questions need to be “rapidly mainstreamed into our culture.”
Security questions need to be rapidly mainstreamed into our culture.
A: Hey B dawg, can you send me $50000?
B: Ah sure. But I was curious, what did you order when we had lunch with Charlie last week?
A: My name’s A for avocado toast!
B: Excellent! Now send the address by email.
— Vitalik Non-giver of Ether (@VitalikButerin) September 9, 2019
However, while most acknowledged the need for greater security, many pointed out that using blockchain wasn’t the way to do it. Some users seemed to be frustrated with the use of the term “blockchain,” saying it has become nothing more than a buzzword.
Use of “blockchain” equals an extra $200 million in ico or venture funding fleecing
— Goatmug (@Goatmug) September 8, 2019
But but blockchain could cure Alzheimer …
Blockchain is a bitcoin technology to make central banks and third party trust obsolete. It is not the answer or cure to anything else, wildly misused and wrongly seen detachable from bitcoin. Buzzword culture busy looking successful!
— HoDling Erik ⚡️ (@erik_jacobi) September 9, 2019
Others said that adequate security measures already exist, pointing to the fact that most messaging apps already have advanced encryption that doesn’t need blockchain.
A phone call is just a stream of 0s/1s transformed into sound. Can be encrypted and access protected (PW, fingerprint etc) like any other data stream.
— Mat Heller (@MatHeller1) September 9, 2019
Sounds like Signal or WhatsApp. I think it might actually be a solved problem. Spam will move from email to phone (which it already has) and the strategies to counter it will be similar to those we deploy against email spam already
— Magnus Petersen-Paaske (@magnuspaaske) September 8, 2019
Please stop misrepresenting problems that are solved by public key crypto as use cases for blockchain. It makes the world dumber.
— Mike Kelly (@mikekelly85) September 8, 2019
While Srinivasan did make the case that getting cryptocurrencies into the mix would give people a financial incentive to keep their private keys on a secure platform such as blockchain, it seems that his original idea still has a long way to go before it catches on.
Crypto solves the long-standing PKI problem by giving people a literal financial incentive to keep their private keys both secure and available at all times.
— Balaji S. Srinivasan (@balajis) September 8, 2019
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