At a glance.
- Intel announces counter-deepfake technology.
- Using streaming, pirated content for influence messaging.
- Complexity, error, and a slippery slope of misreading.
Intel announces counter-deepfake technology.
On Monday Intel announced the availability of a new product, FakeCatcher, that the company claims catches fake videos in realtime with 96% accuracy. Developed in cooperation with a researcher at the State University of New York at Binghamton, FakeCatcher screens not for marks of inauthenticity, but rather for authenticity. "FakeCatcher looks for authentic clues in real videos, by assessing what makes us human— subtle “blood flow” in the pixels of a video. When our hearts pump blood, our veins change color. These blood flow signals are collected from all over the face and algorithms translate these signals into spatiotemporal maps." A video that doesn't exhibit the subtle cues of blood flow fails the test, and is exposed as inauthentic.
Intel sees the technology as making a contribution to restoring trust in digital media. "Deception due to deepfakes can cause harm and result in negative consequences, like diminished trust in media. FakeCatcher helps restore trust by enabling users to distinguish between real and fake content." And the company sees several use cases for their product. "Social media platforms could leverage the technology to prevent users from uploading harmful deepfake videos. Global news organizations could use the detector to avoid inadvertently amplifying manipulated videos. And nonprofit organizations could employ the platform to democratize detection of deepfakes for everyone."
Venture Beat's account of the research points out that FakeCatcher is an early result from a larger Intel research program into deepfakes, and it also outlines the reasons why the problem is such a difficult one.
Using streaming, pirated content for influence messaging.
Russian television viewers are as interested in watching shows like the Walking Dead and Stranger Things as anyone else. That these are American shows is no knock on the quality of Russian television, which can actually be surprisingly good with both workplace dramas and family sitcoms. But premium shows like the Walking Dead and Stranger Things aren't routinely or easily available in Russia, and so they reach their audience largely through pirated streaming.
Ukrainian influence operators have taken advantage of this to tell stories about Russia's war in Ukraine. The Record has an account of the content Ukraine is inserting into the streams. "The shows cut to a man in a white hoodie, telling stories about the war in Ukraine," the Record explains. “'I know this is not the content you expected, but it is what you need to see. This is the illegal truth about Russia’s war in Ukraine,' the man says, before clips start playing of a house exploding from a missile strike, parents crying over the body of a murdered child, or corpses being pulled out from under the rubble." Such news content is not available in Russia, but torrents of television shows are widely available. "The man in the hoodie is a Ukrainian named Volodymyr Biriukov," the Record continues, "one of eight journalists and activists behind a digital campaign called Torrents of Truth. Its members hack pirated movies on torrent trackers to bypass Russian censorship efforts and broadcast real footage from the war in Ukraine."
Torrents of Truth explains the nature of the loophole they're exploiting to get the messaging across. "As of March 7, the Russian government has legalized intellectual property theft to counterattack the economic sanctions taken against it, thus encouraging Russian citizens to pirate content from 'unfriendly countries'. Turning this into an opportunity to bypass censorship, we launched a cyberaction across popular P2P platforms in Russia by uploading testimonies from volunteer journalists on the war in Ukraine disguised as pirated torrents of movies, series, softwares, music and books."
Complexity, error, and a slippery slope of misreading.
As Ukrainian President Zelenskyy made an appeal for assistance to the G20 meeting, Russian forces fired a large number of missiles against Ukrainian infrastructure targets, blacking out much of the country. The Telegraph quotes Mr. Zelenskyy's subsequent remarks about the strikes and their effect: "I know that the strikes turned off energy in many places ... We are working, we will restore everything, we will survive."
At the G20 meetings in Bali, representatives of Canada, the European Commission, the European Council, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States issued a statement on the Russian missile campaign:
"We condemn the barbaric missile attacks that Russia perpetrated on Ukrainian cities and civilian infrastructure on Tuesday.
"We discussed the explosion that took place in the eastern part of Poland near the border with Ukraine. We offer our full support for and assistance with Poland’s ongoing investigation. We agree to remain in close touch to determine appropriate next steps as the investigation proceeds.
"We reaffirm our steadfast support for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people in the face of ongoing Russian aggression, as well as our continued readiness to hold Russia accountable for its brazen attacks on Ukrainian communities, even as the G20 meets to deal with the wider impacts of the war. We all express our condolences to the families of the victims in Poland and Ukraine.
During this offensive, one missile fell on a farm in the Polish village of Przewodow near the border with Ukraine, killing two, the Washington Post reports. It was initially said to be a Russian strike, possibly a deliberate one, against NATO member Poland. The AP reported Tuesday afternoon that “A senior U.S. intelligence official says Russian missiles crossed into NATO member Poland, killing two people.” Reuters also picked up the story, citing the AP. But the reporting was premature, and the AP published a retraction Wednesday, writing in part, "Subsequent reporting showed that the missiles were Russian-made and most likely fired by Ukraine in defense against a Russian attack." The Washington Post describes how the story got its (brief) legs. It seems likely that "Russian-made missile" (true) was confused with "Russian missile" (ambiguous) and then with "Russian-fired" (probably not the case, as we'll see).
Ukraine fired air defense weapons in response to the Russian missile strikes. One of those air defense weapons, a Soviet-era S-300 missile, may have been the one that fell into the Polish farm. That incident was initially read as a missile fired by Russian forces, either aimed at Poland or malfunctioning in such a fashion as to hit Poland, but Polish and NATO sources were quick to investigate and within hours had concluded that the incident was probably the result of a Ukrainian mishap. Investigation continues, and Ukrainian President Zelenskyy still maintains the weapon was not fired by his country's forces. NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg pointed out that in any case Russia, as the aggressor, bore ultimate responsibility for the deaths, since Ukraine was defending itself against heavy and indiscriminate Russian missile fire.
Early results of investigations by Polish, NATO, and US authorities concluded that the missile was probably a Ukrainian S-300 air defense weapon fired in response to yesterday's massive wave of approximately a hundred Russian missile strikes against Ukrainian infrastructure targets. The S-300 (NATO codename "Grumble") is a Soviet-era (and so "Russian-made") long-range air defense missile that entered service in the late 1970s. It's operated by several armies, Ukraine's among them, and a failed air defense weapon can certainly do damage should it fail to safe itself before falling to the ground, and that appears to have happened in this case.
TASS reported the official Russian reaction to the incident: it was a deliberate "provocation." Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Dmitry Polyansky, said in his Telegram channel, “There is an attempt to provoke a direct military clash between NATO and Russia, with all the consequences for the world."
A provocation seems unlikely. The incident is in all likelihood a direct and foreseeable consequence of an intense missile campaign and the air defenses deployed against it. NATO Secretary General alluded to this reality of an air campaign when he said, “This is not Ukraine’s fault. Russia bears ultimate responsibility."
The White House released a statement Wednesday on the incident:
"We have full confidence in the Polish government’s investigation of the explosion near their border with Ukraine, and we commend them for the professional and deliberate manner in which they are conducting it. We will not get ahead of their work and remain in close touch with our Polish counterparts, as we are still gathering information. We have seen nothing that contradicts President Duda’s preliminary assessment that this explosion was most likely the result of a Ukrainian air defense missile that unfortunately landed in Poland. We will continue to assess and share any new information transparently as it becomes available. We will also continue to stay in close touch with the Ukrainians regarding any information they have to fill out the picture.
"That said, whatever the final conclusions may be, it is clear that the party ultimately responsible for this tragic incident is Russia, which launched a barrage of missiles on Ukraine specifically intended to target civilian infrastructure. Ukraine had — and has — every right to defend itself."
For its part, Russia says it's the real victim here, specifically the victim of "Russophobia." The Kremlin has, the Daily Beast reports, demanded an apology of Warsaw for thinking ill of Moscow. Official Russian statements continue to represent judgment as insult, insult as injury (and, eventually, injury as provocation and casus belli).