Tom Cruise deepfakes may be difficult to make but tech poses threat to social and cyber security in future

The technology has earned itself a bad reputation for its use in celebrity and revenge porn videos


                            Tom Cruise deepfakes may be difficult to make but tech poses threat to social and cyber security in future
'Tom Cruise' deepfake videos have sparked concerns about cyber security (Screengrab/ TikTok account @deeptomcruise)

In the latest TikTok videos doing the rounds, 'Mission: Impossible' actor Tom Cruise can be seen being charming as ever. Whether he is engaging his fans in a magic trick, enthralling them with a story from the time he took a trip to Russia or simply playing golf, the actor is in high spirits as he laughs in his signature manner. 

The videos, uploaded to TikTok by an account name DeepTomCruise, had many wondering if the actor really had joined the social networking platform. The account has earned 584,000 followers and the five videos were collectively viewed 1.7 million times. That is until it was made clear that they were actually deepfake videos. 

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In one of the videos, Cruise can be seen saying, "I'm going to show you some magic," adding, "It's the real thing," he adds and laughs and then makes the coin disappear. "It's all the real thing." In another, he is playing golf, and in yet another one, he trips and falls before starting on about a funny story. 

What is deepfake?

All the videos uploaded are fake - specifically, deepfakes, AI-generated video clips that use a variety of techniques to create fictional situations that appear true. Deepfake essentially means that a person in an existing image or video is replaced with someone else's likeness. The technology has earned itself a bad reputation for its use in celebrity porn videos (in 2018, Pornhub banned AI-generated fake porn videos deeming them nonconsensual), revenge porn, hoaxes, fake news, and financial fraud. 

Cruise never made any of the videos uploaded to TikTok on the account. The creator of the videos and the account going by the name DeepTomCruise has recently clarified that the main intention behind the videos was to create awareness. The videos are the product of a collaboration between Belgian visual effects artist Christopher Ume and the Tom Cruise impersonator Miles Fisher.



 

In a recent interview, the creator explained that he enjoys creating "funny content" but also warns against the technology. "The tech is evolving rapidly and will get better and will become more accessible as time goes on," he reportedly said, adding that there will "always" be people who will "misuse" the technique. "Twenty years ago you have Photoshop, you didn’t know about fake photos so they started editing photos, and now people realise - like photos - that videos can be misleading." He also added that it was his responsibility to spread awareness. "So it’s important on my side to create awareness so people start thinking twice when they see similar videos. In a year from now people need to question what they’re looking at and it’s important for journalists to confirm their sources and where they got it."

How did Tom Cruise's videos go viral?

The two had worked together before when Ume put Cruise's face on Fisher for a video imagining the actor's campaign for the 2020 presidency. And when they uploaded the video to TikTok, they had little idea that it would blow up. Ume recalls, "A month later, he [Fisher] contacted me again, and said: ‘Let’s make a funny video … I’ll film myself in my garden and then you just make me look like Tom Cruise.’ And so we did that and he posted it – but he also created a TikTok account. He doesn’t know anything about the app, I don’t either, but then then two days later, he sends me a screenshot: ‘Dude. Two and a half million views.’”



 

Deepfakes might be becoming more advanced, but it might not be all that easy for the average person to create such ultra-realistic videos since it requires extensive manual work and skills, Ume reveals. He spent about 24-hours in production for each minute-long video. "That’s important, that’s a message I want to tell people. Each clip took weeks of work," he said in an interview. "By combining traditional CGI and VFX with deepfakes, it makes it better. I make sure you don’t see any of the glitches."

Dangers of Deepfake

At the same time, the technology is being used commercially in company training videos in the US and even in TV news reports in South Korea. But Ume's is not the only video out there that was intended to be funny. There are several video stunts and pranks, such as a deepfake of the Queen in Channel 4’s alternative Christmas speech, and a fake version of the Donald Trump ‘Pee Tape’. There was also a video of 'Barack Obama' calling Donald Trump names. This video was also created to spread awareness. At the time, BuzzFeed News Media Editor Craig Silverman had reiterated the 'skills' point. "So the good news is it still requires a decent amount of skill, processing power, and time to create a really good deepfake."

According to reports, realistic deepfakes could potentially be used to carry out cyberattacks in the future. "We see the potential of deepfakes to become a feature of enterprise attacks, amplifying existing social engineering techniques by making them appear even more credible," Nir Chako, cyber research specialist at identity security firm CyberArk reportedly said. "It is not too much of a stretch for attackers to lift video and recordings of senior business leaders... and use them to generate deepfakes that act as a strategic follow-on to phishing attempts."



 

Petr Somol, AI research director at cyber security firm Avast, also stressed on the ill uses of the technology. "Deepfakes will likely reach a quality this year where they can be actively used in disinformation campaigns. Conspiracy theories about the coronavirus, such as its alleged spread via 5G, could be reemphasized via deepfake videos - for example, wrongly showing politicians as conspirators."

While there are many who say that the technology requires skill and labour, it might not be all that difficult to pick up for malicious purposes. 

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