A recent report from a Binance executive reads more like a tech lingo bingo card than a warning about online stranger danger. Apparently going the usual route to hack crypto projects was a little too “lo-fi” for some crafty scammers, as the crypto exchange announced that hackers had a hologram deepfake to defraud several crypto projects out of their funds.
Binance Chief Communications Officer Patrick Hillmann wrote in a blog post last week that internet scammers had been using deepfake technology to copy his image during video meetings. He started to catch on to this trend when he received messages from the leadership of various crypto projects thanking him for meetings he never attended.
Hillmann shared one screenshot of messages sent over LinkedIn with one supposed project leader telling the Binance exec somebody had impersonated his hologram. The communications officer wrote that a team of hackers had used old interviews found online to create a deepfake of him. Hillmann added that “Other than the 15 pounds that I gained during COVID being noticeably absent, this deep fake was refined enough to fool several highly intelligent crypto community members.”
Binance is ranked as one of the biggest crypto exchanges by far when comparing trading volume, which likely makes it it a high value target for scammers looking to squeeze both crypto users and project leaders out of their money.
The exec did not state how many of these crypto projects have been scammed, but apparently, there’s been a rash of hackers faking themselves as Binance staff on multiple social platforms including Twitter, LinkedIn, and Telegram, Hillmann wrote. These fake accounts approach various leads of up-and-coming crypto projects, asking them to pay a fee for the honor of having their projects listed on Binance. The problem has become common enough that Binance has a tool to verify whether a source actually represents the exchange.
“Over the past month, I’ve received several online messages thanking me for taking the time to meet with project teams regarding potential opportunities to list their assets on Binance.com,” Hillmann wrote. “This was odd because I don’t have any oversight of or insight into Binance listings, nor had I met with any of these people before.”
The fact that these execs were not only targeting crypto users, but crypto project teams as well, points to just how prolific scams and hacks are in the larger crypto community. The FBI has said users are being regularly scammed by fake crypto apps, losing about $42 million in total over the past year. While some of the largest crypto heists have involved hackers infiltrating web3 networks, usually abusing security flaws found in connected web2 applications, other scams called “rugpulls” get users to sign up with false promises before simply taking the funds and disappearing.
Of course, Binance isn’t immune to user complaints. Gizmodo’s past reporting uncovered hundreds of complaints filed with the Federal Trade Commission against the exchange, many arguing that they put their crypto into Binance but were restricted from withdrawing it. Others said they were scammed by people pretending to be customer support for Binance, which in previous years did not have a customer support phone number available. The company now has a support center which shows up as one of the first options in Google searches. Of course, part of the issue is that Binance does not claim any home country for their HQ arguing they are “decentralized.” One of their main offices is located in the Cayman Islands, though even that vague designation has come under scrutiny in the past.
Still, sophisticated deepfake technology has been a tough nut to crack for many high-profile individuals. Researchers have proved many online accounts on LinkedIn are AI-generated. Law enforcement officials have said that deepfakes are being used more and more to apply to remote jobs. The best way to tell a deepfake from an actual human is to watch for any video defects or visual glitches or skin texture that doesn’t seem real. Still, many scammers use low-quality cameras to try and mask any sign the person behind the camera is a digital image.