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Geographic Deepfake – A New Potential Cyberthreat

by | May 17, 2021 | MyTek Blog, Security


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It’s a little known but very important fact that all maps we are used to seeing are skewed. This is because of centuries old prejudice and superiority complexes that have changed the way maps were accurately drawn. Beyond this, the problem may turn into an element of cybercrime known as a geographic deepfake, potentially revolutionizing cyberattacks of the future. 

What Are Deepfakes?

With the use of artificial intelligence, deepfakes are videos or images that have been manipulated or changed to revise the truth. While they can be used in harmless ways like: putting your face on a celebrity’s body, making a video out of a still image, or other fun kitschy applications that are gaining popularity, they can also be very dangerous. 

Another more convincing example is This Person Does Not Exist, which is a website that pulls the results of a generative adversarial network and is trying to create a face that looks as real as possible. Although these people don’t actually exist, the technology is working to make faces that look real and believable. 

While these websites and applications can be entertaining, they undermine the risks that come with the use of deepfakes. Deepfakes have been used to frame people in assorted adult situations without their consent, in order to be used in blackmailing schemes. They have also been used to fake political impressions, which can sway tides of an election. 

There is another looming threat that deepfakes can be a part of now, which is geographic deepfakes.

What is a Geographic Deepfake?

Instead of the use of person’s face or voice, geographic deepfakes work to alter satellite imagery to change what the landscape looks like. With this technology constantly improving, these type of deepfakes could cause serious issues for business and governments. 

How a Geographic Deepfake Could be Abused

Let’s imagine this threat in a real situation for a moment, so we can understand how bad the threat is:

These manipulations could be used in war. If a troop of soldiers are using satellite images to plot out their courses, the opposing enemy could manipulate these images and lead them into a trap or lead them astray. This was a proposed strategy by National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency analyst named Todd Myers in 2019. 

Maps Have Always Been Manipulated

Changing maps and adding little details that don’t actually exist is surprisingly a form of copyright protection for cartographers and has been used throughout history. If they make up a few little details, it is easy to see if other mapmakers have copied their work. 

A geographic deepfake might just add another layer to these efforts, says University of Washington in a recent study.

This study used examples of map manipulation and embellishment from as early as 5th century B.C. Babylon. Though, they also focused on the modern applications and practical examples. This study showed that these applications are very real and easy to abuse, but much more difficult to identify when they are being used. 

Most don’t second guess maps they see, which makes this issue even more dangerous. The researchers of this study were able to create a tool to identify deepfakes they generated, but it will need to be constantly updated to keep up with the incoming improvements by those who are abusing these tools. 

What Can Be Learned?

While these issues have a while before they are in use, it is good to look toward the future and see how they may affect you and our world. Think about if someone were able to take your business off of maps, in order to lead customers to their own. There are many devious ways that cybercriminals may use these technologies, so we have to be ready for when they happen. MyTek is here to help with all security prevention types. By keeping your business secure as possible, you keep it safe from many issues that could arise. Call us today to learn more at 623-312-2440.


Tim - Team

Tim Tiller, LMSW

Tim Tiller, MSW brings a deep service background to his role at Mytek, having graduated from McDonald’s management training program, fresh out of high school, and working his way up through the ranks in the hospitality industry. He has led two prior companies – Multi-Systems Inc., an IT-focused organization providing technology to hospitality companies (where he was named President at age 36), and most recently, as Chief Operating Officer for Jewish Voice Ministries International.


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