There are growing concerns about the safety of the voice identification system offered by the Australian government. According to multiple reports, AI-generated audio voices have been able to bypass the security infrastructure and gain access to senstitive information of Australians.
Nowhere Is Safe
Artificial intelligence (AI) is a set of computer-generated command prompts that can mimic human actions and intelligence. Since breaking into the spotlight in 2022, products surrounding this innovative technology have seen increased adoption across several key industries ranging from medicine and customer service to energy. However, a growing number of cases point to a more sinister use of AI.
According to an investigation carried out by Guardian Australia, an AI-generated voice can now access people’s personal details on Centrelink and the Australian Tax Office (ATO). The AI is trained to sound like a specific person and can then be used to bypass the ‘voiceprint’ authentication system instituted by both the ATO and Centrelink to verify the authenticity of the user.
With this, anyone can access someone else’s phone banking services overseas, payments of benefits, and even get sensitive documents via mail. In addition, this voiceprint gives access to replacement concession or healthcare cards.
Providing context to ATO and Centrelink’s voiceprint service, the platform describes it as a digital representation of the sound, rhythm, physical characteristics, and patterns of a user’s voice. The voiceprint is a favorite mechanism for verification, and over 3.8 million Australians who are Centrelink customers use this service. A further 7.1 million have verified their voice using this service with the ATO.
To verify these claims, a Guardian Australia correspondent conned the Centrelink self-service account by using this AI-generated voice and was able to get their customer reference number with it.
On its website, Services Australia – a government department that oversees the Centrelink platform, said its website is secure, accurate, and reliable. Providing more context, the platform said that it is quite difficult to access a user’s personal information. It also said its system is able to decipher when someone is pretending to be someone else or using a recording of their voice.
‘Everything Is Still Secure’
When contacted for comments on the alarming situation, Services Australia did not provide a response on whether the voiceprint technology will be changed or removed from the Centrelink platform.
However, a spokesperson, Hank Jongen, noted that Services Australia ‘“has the capacity to assess risks and update processes accordingly continually” and that the voiceprint technology is a highly secured authentication method that the Centrelink service relies on. Jongen also said that the platform continually scans for threats, and if any unusual activity is discovered, additional tests will be initiated to verify a user’s identity further.
Commercial banks which rely on the voice ID verification system are also susceptible to this hack. A classical example is Bank Australia which infuses this technology for conversation with staff as a mechanism to reduce lag for verification questions.
A spokesperson for the bank stated that the financial institution works closely with its technology partners to monitor and continuously improve its systems to stay ahead of new threats. One of its tech partners, Nuance, addressed the issue of ‘synthetic voices’ around sensitive details.
In a February blog post, the tech company stated that its systems could accurately detect and flag the use of cloned voices in 86% and 99% of cases, depending on the system used.
A growing number of voice cloning apps are becoming easily available on the internet. A few can be accessed for free, while some levy a small fee for using the platform. While the recordings may differ based on quality, users who have their voice on social media networks may easily fall prey to these cloning apps.
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