As 2022 draws close, McAfee considers how the 2023 threat landscape might look. This year saw the continued evolution of scams, which is unlikely to slow down, as well as greater adoption of Chrome as an operating system. The introduction of AI tools that are easy and accessible, the popularity of cryptocurrency and the emergence of “Web3” will have significant implications. All of these set the stage for 2023 that promises advancement in how we interact with technology and how bad actors can exploit it and, in turn, us. Below are McAfee’s predictions for 2023 and a few tips to stay safe.
AI Goes Mainstream, and the Distribution of Disinformation Rises
Humans have been fascinated with and fearful of Artificial Intelligence for almost as long as we’ve been using computers. While AI is rapidly evolving, it’s still humans at the heart of its nefarious uses.
Within the last few months, several applications have become available for public use, meaning AI-generated images, videos and even voices are no longer something that only a select few are capable of – now anyone with a phone or computer can take advantage of the technology using applications like Open AI’s Dall-E or stability.ai’s Stable Diffusion. Google has even made creating AI-generated videos more accessible than ever.
What does this mean for the future? It means the next generation of content creation is available to the masses. Consumers will have the ability to create AI-generated content in minutes. Desktop publishing, photo editing, and inexpensive home printers created major advances that empowered individuals to create content that previously required a professional graphic artist. These technologies will enable sophisticated outputs with minimal expertise.
Advances in desktop publishing and consumer printing also provided benefits to criminals, enabling better counterfeiting and more realistic manipulation of images. Similarly, various bad actors will also use these emerging next-generation content tools. From cyber criminals to those seeking to influence public opinion falsely, these tools will empower scammers and propagandists to take their tradecraft to the next level with more realistic results and significantly improved efficiency.
Globally, the political environment is polarized and will ramp up in 2023 as the US begins the 2024 Presidential election cycle in earnest. The emergence of accessible next generation generative AI tools and what will be a highly contested 2024 election season is a perfect storm for creating and distributing disinformation for political and monetary gain.
This extends to AI chatbots as well. The recent launch of conversational AI chatbot, ChatGPT, highlights two of our main concerns for the year ahead – AI and the potential for disinformation. AI signals the next generation of content creation becoming available to the masses. So just as advances in desktop publishing and consumer printing allowed criminals to create better counterfeits and more realistic manipulation of images, these tools will be used by a range of bad actors, from cybercriminals to those seeking to falsely influence public opinion, to take their craft to the next level with more realistic results.
Consumers must be more mindful of the content they consume and its sources. Fact-checking images, videos, and news content, something that’s already on the rise, will continue to be a necessary and valuable part of media consumption.
New Year, New Scams
In 2022 we saw several online scams using existing content to make crypto scams more believable. One such example was the double your money cryptocurrency scam that used an old Elon Musk video as a lure. We expect this to evolve in 2023 and use deep fake videos and audio to trick victims into parting ways with their hard-earned money.
The financial outlook for 2023 shows it’s likely going to be a challenging year for most people. During these times, people often look for ways to make some extra money and this can make them vulnerable to social media messages and online ads that offer substantial financial gains for minimal investment.
According to the IC3 2021 report, the losses for financial scams increased from $336,469,000 in 2020 to $1,455,943,193 in 2021, showing this scam is growing by an enormous amount without signs of stopping.
Unfortunately, scammers will often target the most vulnerable people. Fake Loan scams are one such scam where the scammers know that the victims are desperate for the loan, and therefore are less likely to react to warning signs such as asking for an upfront fee. McAfee predicts that there will be a significant increase in these types of scams in 2023. Always use a trusted provider when looking for a loan and be careful when clicking on online ads—even from a brand you recognize.
Metaverses such as Facebook’s Horizon enable their users to explore an online world that was previously unimaginable. We have observed phishing campaigns targeting users of these platforms in 2022 and we expect this to increase dramatically in 2023 as user adoption grows. While these platforms are in the early stages, malicious actors will usually attempt to exploit the lack of understanding of how they work and use this to scam people.
The Rise of ChromeOS Threats
Email and web-based scams are prolific. The ultimate vectors are those which impact users across a spectrum of devices. Over five years ago, Android overtook Windows as the world’s most popular OS.For Google, cross-platform capabilities are highlighted by the increased adoption of ChromeOS and a few underlying technologies. This includes 270M active Android users and a 270% increase in Progressive Web Application (PWA) installations. ChromeOS’ ability to run Android applications combined with widespread adoption provides the climate for increased attention by those with ill intentions. Similarly, the adoption of PWAs provides bad actors with additional incentive to deliver deceptive and imposter attacks through this mulit-os channel, including ChromeOS, iOS, MacOS, and Windows.
Finally, on the heels of COVID restrictions that impacted schools in various countries, Google reported 50M students and educators worldwide using ChromeOS. Many users will be unaware of malicious Chrome extensions lurking in the Chrome Web Store. In 2023, we can expect to see Chromebook users among millions of unsuspecting victims that download and run malicious content, whether from malicious Android Apps, Progressive Web Apps, or Chrome Web Store extensions; users should be cautious of popups and push notifications urging them to install untrusted apps.