China plans to disrupt US elections using AI-generated content, Microsoft claims

The Chinese government also aims to interfere with elections in India and South Korea.
Written by Don Reisinger, Contributing Writer
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The Chinese government is ramping up its artificial intelligence efforts to disrupt elections around the world, Microsoft's Threat Intelligence Team has warned. Microsoft claims that a host of Chinese state-backed cyber criminal groups are planning to use AI to interfere with elections in 2024 in the US, India, and South Korea. The company's security experts added that North Korea is also participating in the effort, which could span a variety of channels, including social media.

"China is using fake social media accounts to poll voters on what divides them most to sow division and possibly influence the outcome of the US presidential election in its favor," Microsoft wrote in a blog post on Friday. "China has also increased its use of AI-generated content to further its goals around the world."  

Also: How AI will fool voters in 2024 if we don't do something now

Microsoft added that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) backs cybercriminal groups that, in recent months, have tried to divide Americans on a variety of recent events, including claiming that the US government may have been involved in the Kentucky train derailment in November 2023, that the US is intentionally poisoning foreign water supplies, the reasons for drug use in the US, as well as "immigration policies and racial tensions in the country."

At the same time, Microsoft, which has monitored the group's communications across channels, said that "there is little evidence these efforts have been successful in swaying opinion."

Governments across the globe have always used technology extensively to influence public opinion, and especially in the past decade. Soon after the 2016 US election, several reports suggested the Russian government was actively attempting to spread misinformation to sway US public opinion. Other reports have suggested that China, the US, and many other countries have similarly engaged in cyber techniques that aim to convince people around the globe to side with their initiatives.

However, as AI becomes more sophisticated, the risks of spreading misinformation only grow. With the ability to create fake images, videos, and other types of content, it's possible for governments and government-backed cyber criminal groups to target many more people with far more believable content.

According to Microsoft, North Korea's involvement in the efforts center not necessarily on swaying elections, but on generating revenue for the country. North Korea already engages in stealing cryptocurrency funds and attacking supply chain software.

"The United Nations estimates that North Korean cyber actors have stolen over $3 billion in cryptocurrency since 2017," Microsoft said. "Heists totaling between $600 million and $1 billion occurred in 2023 alone."  

Also: Tech giants promise to combat fraudulent AI content in mega elections year

Looking ahead, Microsoft said that based on China's activities so far, the chances of the country impacting global elections remains low. However, that doesn't mean this couldn't change in the future.

"We assess that China will, at a minimum, create and amplify AI-generated content to benefit its interests," Microsoft said. "Despite the chances of such content in affecting election results remaining low, China's increasing experimentation in augmenting memes, videos, and audio will likely continue – and may prove more effective down the line."

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