Deepfakes: warning about swapping real but fake satellite images

Deepfakes: warning about swapping real but fake satellite images

Satellite images can also be manipulated with deepfake technology and we must learn to recognize such fakes. This is what a group of researchers from the University of Washington, who have falsified satellite images themselves as proof of their thesis, are calling for. They warn that such falsified satellite images could become a growing problem, which is why we should already be thinking about how to deal with them and how to apply current methods of fact-checkers to satellite images. In any case, the technology for falsifying satellite images already exists, and such images could be used to spread lies about natural disasters, for example, or to discredit real satellite images.

From personalized porn clips to satellite images

The term deepfake became established in 2018 when videos were shared in a Reddit community in which algorithms had replaced the faces of the people portrayed. A little later there were already such fake movies, which were so real that people could not distinguish them from unmanipulated videos. The researchers led by Bo Zhao have now applied the underlying procedure to satellite images. They fed an algorithm with satellite images of the cities of Tacoma and Seattle in the U.S. state of Washington and the Chinese capital Beijing. The software then created deepfakes by superimposing visual patterns of one city onto the map of another.

As the team now explains, counterfeit cards are at least as old as cards themselves. For various reasons, it never disappeared, not least as a method of detecting copies of cards. They also point to examples where real satellite images are mislabeled or developed through different post-processing in such a way that the visual impression changes. Their research is not about such traps. They deliberately faked satellite images to show on the one hand that they might not be recognizable as such for untrained people and on the other hand how they can be detected anyway.

Deepfakes: warning about swapping real but fake satellite images

A real map (a.) and a real satellite image (b.), as well as two deepfakes, moving the Tacoma intersection to Seattle and Beijing.

The group has now presented their work in the journal Cartography and Geographic Information Science and added some examples to it. These show, for example, one and the same map section of Tacoma, once in the original and then again as it looked in Seattle and Beijing. In China’s capital city, for example, the houses are much higher. Further illustrations show that deepfake satellite images could (still) be detected via more precise analyses of the colors, edges and textures. However, such test methods had to be constantly developed further.

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