Scammers imitating Russian opposition trick Estonian MPs with 'deepfake'

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Session Hall at the Riigikogu. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Leonid Volkov, an ally of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, said that his face and deepfake filters had been used to trick British and Baltic MPs. Approximately 10 Estonian MPs communicated with the person posing as Volkov via a video bridge on March 18, Postimees reports.

"The meeting took place, but this clearly constitutes identity theft," chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the Estonian parliament Marko Mihkelson (Reform) said.

Member of the support group for freeing Alexei Navalny and former member of the foreign affairs committee Raivo Tamm (Isamaa) learned of the doppelganger through the media when fake Volkov gave an interview to a Latvian television channel.

"We expressed our support to Alexei Navalny and demanded his release," Tamm said.

Mihkelson and his Baltic colleagues spoke to the real Volkov via a video link on Friday morning.

"He was physically in the same office as my Lithuanian colleague," Mihkelson said. "We spoke about how Russian opposition figures and their credibility is being attacked at an international level, including with this deepfake attack we have just seen," Mihkelson said.

With the exception of fake Volkov not being able to comment on Navalny's fate in March, they had well prepared for the meeting.

"It seems they really want to get someone to say 'yes we're allocating significant sums of money for supporting the Russian opposition'," Mihkelson said.

Lauri Tankler, senior analyst at the Estonian Information System Authority (RIA) said that creating a credible deepfake using the image of person who is well known to the public is difficult as the hoax can easily be discovered if the scammer's mannerisms or gestures differ from those of the person they are imitating.

Tankler highlighted the importance of security of communication and making sure that the invitation to the video meeting is sent to the right person.

Estonian MPs are to meet with Volkov via a video link on May 7.

On Thursday, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania released a joint statement saying there has been an increase in information and cyber attacks against politicians and EU countries in recent weeks.

"These attacks were meant to spread false information, discredit Russian opposition and undermine Baltic politicians' support for it," the statement said.

Additionally, these attacks have been aimed at European countries "undercutting their support for democratic processes in Belarus and Russia and their efforts to push de-escalation along Ukraine's borders".

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Editor: Helen Wright

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