FaceApp: Scarier Than Aging Itself

Get to Know Scott Augenbaum

Are the apps you download putting you at risk for a cyber attack?

There aren’t too many things that are more horrifying than my frazzled, half-open eyed, linen-creased face in the morning. It seems like only yesterday- when most of my face didn’t fall victim to gravity, or have creases and wrinkles running every which way. We all wish to age gracefully. So much so, that according to Reuters, by 2023 the global anti-aging market will have summoned about $55.03 BILLION from us in the pursuit of the Fountain of Youth. Clearly there’s an interest in how we’ll age, or how to prevent the aging process. So when a free app comes along that could show you, within seconds, how you’d look just for fun- why wouldn’t you want to see? FaceApp does just that, and more. If you were busy laughing at your coworkers photos (or mortified at your own); you are one of the 100 million subscribers within a few days time. In my experience, most people seem to think that if a product is readily available through trusted sources like the App Store or Google Store, then it must be okay. Or is it?

FaceApp seems like a harmless tool, as you can take a selfie of yourself and see what you will look like after adding a couple of decades. It went viral after celebrities posted a “FaceApp Challenge” in which you’d post your results. “Just another social media craze that will fizzle out,” I’m sure most of us thought. 

But cybercriminals use what’s popular in order to target us. 

They are sophisticated, by knowing trends, technology, and human behavior. Apps such as these are no exception.

So here’s my issue. FaceApp’s creator, Yaroslav Goncharov, is no newbie to the tech world. According to Forbes, he worked on Windows Mobile for Microsoft and was the cofounder of a company that was sold to Russia’s Google. While this may be just another tech guy to some, it is a red flag for cyber-guys such as myself. This is a Russian owned and operated company, and there were only 12 guys working under Goncharov when the app went viral.

It makes me wonder if this is just a very small tech company, or an under-disguise cybercrime ring. 

There are numerous allegations that the company has ties to the Russian Government. It’s no secret that there is a “Cyber Cold War” going on between our country and theirs. So now do we have to worry that the Russian Government has access to our photos? Some of you are thinking, “Who cares? What could they possibly do with a 70-year old likeness of me?” The AI software snapped a photo of you, in real time, and downloaded it to their servers. It then used this technology to change your face, dependent upon which filter you chose. 

But filter or not- FaceApp now has a database of over 100 million people, just lurking somewhere in the dark depths of cyber space. 

These photos could be used for identification purposes by another government; or if in the hands of cybercriminals, could be used to defeat facial recognition software for numerous control systems. Scary, huh?

There’s so much debate these days over privacy on the Internet, but do we really have an expectation of privacy when we voluntarily provide this information? 

When we take a selfie, and provide it to any database such as FaceApp, are we really cognizant of the potential repercussions? Congress is calling for an FBI investigation into the app, and maybe there is good reason. This makes one think: How many apps want access to other sensitive information on our devices?  Should any of my kids’ games need access to their exact location? It’s crazy how much information is stored on our devices, and yet we hit DOWNLOAD before we let it all sink in.

Before you jump on the newest app-craze, make sure you know what the app is trying to access, and think of the potential red flags that come with it. Not trying to be the cyber-pessimist, but the dark web is a scary place. 

Cybercriminals are always looking for innovative ways to get you to voluntarily give your information. 

One thing I know is this- a huge profit could be brewing for cybercriminals out there with more than 100 million people falling victim to FaceApp. Whatever is behind their intentions; it will come to light eventually. Until then, think twice before you click or hit download. Your 90-year old self will thank you (in more ways than one)!

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