Microsoft: China will use AI to disrupt elections in the US, South Korea and India

China will try to disrupt elections in the US, South Korea and India this year with content generated by artificial intelligence, Microsoft warned, as reported by the Guardian

by Sededin Dedovic
Microsoft: China will use AI to disrupt elections in the US, South Korea and India
© Johnny Harris / Youtube channel

Recently, there has been growing concern about the potential interference of foreign states in electoral processes worldwide, especially through the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to generate and distribute disinformation.

This phenomenon has become increasingly pronounced, with recent reports highlighting alarming activities undertaken or planned by state-backed Chinese cyber groups. This year, China will attempt to disrupt elections in the US, South Korea, and India using AI-generated content after conducting a trial during the presidential elections in Taiwan, Microsoft warned, as reported by The Guardian.

The American technology company stated, as per The Guardian, that it expects cyber groups supported by the Chinese state to target "high-profile" elections in 2024, with North Korea's involvement, according to a report from the company's intelligence team published on Friday.

Microsoft recently warned that China is poised to leverage its technological resources to disrupt electoral processes in several countries, including the United States, South Korea, and India. China currently has some of the strongest hacker groups, and we saw from their recent intrusion that even a world superpower like the USA is not immune.

Microsoft's warning comes after Chinese cyber groups already conducted a trial during the presidential elections in Taiwan, using AI-generated content, according to information from a report published by Microsoft on Friday, as reported by The Guardian.

One of the key tools to be used is the generation of AI content, which will be distributed through social media, leveraging their presence and influence in the digital space. Although the impact is currently small, Microsoft's warning points to potential changes in this dynamic.

During the recent presidential elections in Taiwan, Chinese cyber groups demonstrated their capabilities through various tactics, including posting mostly fake audio recordings on the YouTube platform spreading misinformation about candidates.

A group supported by Beijing, named Storm 1376, was highly active during the Taiwanese elections. Some of their fake audio recordings on the YouTube platform featured Terry Gou, who withdrew in November, endorsing another candidate.

According to Microsoft's analysis, this activity represents the first documented case of a state entity using AI-generated content to influence foreign elections. Storm 1376, supported by Beijing, actively operated during the Taiwanese elections in the island state that China considers its sovereign territory.

Their activities mostly involved posting fake audio recordings on YouTube as mentioned, but they also significantly utilized meme generation spreading baseless allegations against certain candidates. This group initiated a series of AI-generated memes about William Lai, a sovereignty candidate opposed by Beijing, making unfounded allegations against Lai, accusing him of embezzling state funds.

Taiwans Vice President and president-elect from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Lai Ching-te (C) speaks to supporters at © Annabelle Chih / Getty Images

Similar tactics have been applied in other contexts, such as in Iran, where Chinese cyber operators used content generation tools to spread disinformation and destabilize the political situation.

The use of tools like KepKat, developed by the Chinese company BiteDance, has become common practice among these groups. There has also been an increased use of AI-generated news anchors. In Iran, a "news anchor" made unsubstantiated claims about Lai's private life, including the birth of illegitimate children.

Microsoft stated that news anchors were created using the KepKat (CapCut) tool developed by the Chinese company BiteDance, the owner of TikTok. Furthermore, Chinese cyber groups continue to conduct influence campaigns in other countries, including the US.

Their activities on social media, which encourage polarization and spread disinformation, can have serious consequences on electoral processes, as well as public trust in democratic institutions. "This could be gathering intelligence on key voter demographics ahead of the US presidential elections," Microsoft said in a blog post accompanying the report.

This warning comes in the context of increasing concerns about Chinese cyber operations, especially after recent incidents that demonstrated the vulnerability of high-ranking US officials' digital systems. This is just the latest reminder of the complexity and seriousness of the challenges posed by cyber threats and interference in electoral processes worldwide.

The report was published the same week that an official audit committee appointed by the White House said that a "cascade of errors" by Microsoft allowed state-backed Chinese cyber operators to breach the email accounts of high-ranking US officials.

Last month, the US and UK governments accused China-backed hackers, as reported by The Guardian, of conducting a years-long cyber campaign targeting politicians, journalists, and companies, as well as British elections. Combating interference in electoral processes will require a comprehensive approach involving collaboration between governments and technology companies.

This year is highly significant as the elections in the USA and EU involve two key allies and translators of NATO, and China, although it has never clearly opposed NATO, has repeatedly supported Russia and President Putin, who is currently NATO's biggest adversary.

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