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WPP CEO Mark Read targeted by deep fake AI scam

Mark Read, CEO of WPP was the recent target of an artificial intelligence (AI) deep fake scam.
Source: © Witness Media Lab  Many people have been targeted by deep fakes
Source: © Witness Media Lab Witness Media Lab Many people have been targeted by deep fakes

The scam was unsuccessful.

In a statement quoted by The Guardian a WPP spokesperson confirmed the phishing attempt bore no fruit. “Thanks to the vigilance of our people, including the executive concerned, the incident was prevented.”

Reported exclusively by The Guardian and then carried by other media outlets such as the New York Post, the scammers used an AI voice clone and a publicly available image of Read.

They set up a WhatsApp account which they then used to set up a Microsoft Teams meeting with another WPP executive. It appeared that it was Read who set up the meeting.

This is according to The Guardian which quoted its source as an email obtained by them.

In the meeting which did take place, the scammers deployed a voice clone of Read as well as YouTube footage. Off camera, they used the meeting’s chat window to impersonate Read.

The Guardian states, “The scam, which was unsuccessful, targeted an “agency leader”, asking them to set up a new business in an attempt to solicit money and personal details.”

AI technology widely available

Low-cost audio deepfake technology has become widely available and deepfake audio has targeted political candidates, while the number of deepfake attacks in the corporate world has surged over the past year.

Earlier this year Taylor Swift was a victim of deep fakes.

Read gives red flags

Read addressed the incident in an email. “Just because the account has my photo doesn’t mean it’s me,” Read said in the email.

“Fortunately the attackers were not successful," the head of the world’s biggest advertising group, says, and then warns, “We all need to be vigilant to the techniques that go beyond emails to take advantage of virtual meetings, AI and deepfakes.”

In the email, he adds, “We have seen increasing sophistication in the cyber-attacks on our colleagues, and those targeted at senior leaders in particular.”

His email also gave bullet points to look out for as red flags, including requests for passports, money transfers and any mention of a “secret acquisition, transaction or payment that no one else knows about”.

WPP targetted

On its website, the publicly traded company with a market cap of about $11.3bn, confirmed that it had been dealing with fake sites using its brand name.

It says it is working with relevant authorities to stop the fraud.

A pop-up message on the company’s contact page states.“Please be aware that WPP’s name and those of its agencies have been fraudulently used by third parties – often communicating via messaging services – on unofficial websites and apps."

WPP did not respond to questions on when the attack took place or which executives besides Read were involved says The Guardian.

Read: AI an opportunity, not a threat

Last year WPP announced its partnership with the chip-maker Nvidia to create advertisements with generative AI.

Read has stated previously that WPP believes AI will enhance, not replace, human creativity.

“We are already empowering our people with AI-based tools to augment their skills, produce work more efficiently and improve media performance, all of which will increase the effectiveness of our work.

“We also see opportunities to sell new AI-driven products and services to our clients and to capture more growth in areas like production.”

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