Cybercriminals impersonated the voice of an energy company’s chief executive and demanded an urgent transfer of $243,000 – and it worked, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.
Cybercrime experts are calling it one of the most unusual crimes ever perpetrated using artificial intelligence (AI). The CEO of the company reportedly thought he was speaking on the phone with the chief executive of the energy firm’s parent company, who asked him to send the money to a supplier in Hungary.
The person on the line made the request sound extremely urgent, saying the money needed to be transferred within an hour. The names of the company and the parties involved were not reported.
There have been predictions about the proliferation of more AI-based cyberattacks from law enforcement. In this case, the software was able to successfully imitate the German man’s voice.
Rüdiger Kirsch, a fraud expert at Euler Hermes, said the CEO heard his boss' slight German accent, as well as the way his voice moved on the phone, which seemed familiar. Kirsch said this is the first case he knows about involving this specific type of crime. These types of AI schemes present new challenges for companies, as general cybersecurity tools are not prepared or trained to deal with them.
Philipp Amann, head of strategy at Europol’s European Cybercrime Center, said it’s hard to tell if this is the first incident or if others just haven’t been reported. If the attacks are increasingly successful, he said, they might increase in frequency.
The perpetrators of the electric company attack reportedly called three times. After the money went through, the hackers called back and said the parent company had reimbursed the money. They then made a third call, again posing as the German CEO, and asked for more money. Because the money hadn’t yet gone through for the reimbursement, the British CEO got suspicious and did not make the payment. After the first payment was sent, it went to Mexico and other locations around the world. There are not yet any suspects.