In this edition of Risk Alerts, Carrier Management highlights cryoseisms, also known as frost quakes; AI-assisted phishing attacks using large language models and voice cloning; flood-prone homes; newly identified earthquake faults; and the health impacts of climate change.

Frost quakes.

A new study published in the journal EGUsphere has identified a potentially growing natural hazard in the North: frost quakes.

Also known as cryoseisms, frost quakes are caused by the rapid freezing of water in the ground, which can cause cracks accompanied by tremors and booms. Ground motions during frost quakes are comparable to those of other seismic events, such as more distant earthquakes, mining explosions and vibrations produced by freight trains.

While frost quakes are generally not dangerous, they can cause damage to infrastructure such as buildings, basements, pipelines and roads.

Roads and other areas cleared of snow in winter are particularly vulnerable to frost quakes, but they can also occur in swamps, wetlands and other places where water accumulates, researchers say.

“With climate change, rapid changes in weather patterns have brought frost quakes to the attention of the wider audience, and they may become more common. Although their intensity is usually low, a series of relatively strong frost quakes in Oulu, 2016, which ruptured roads, was the starting point for our research,” said Kari Moisio, a senior researcher at the University of Oulu.

Frost quakes have been reported in the Midwest and New England in the U.S., as well as Canada and parts of Scandinavia.

Source: “Frost Quakes: a new earthquake risk in the north?” University of Oulu, Dec. 11, 2023

Phishing bait.

Generative AI can make it more difficult to detect cyber threats such as phishing emails, warn two cybersecurity experts from Southern Methodist University.

“In the past, signs such as misspelled words or the awkward use of language could often be used to detect the use of emails or web ads to trick users into providing sensitive information… But with the high quality of human language generation provided by these new AI-based language generators, detecting such emails and fake ads is much harder than it used to be,” said Eric C. Larson, an associate professor in the SMU Lyle School of Engineering’s Department of Computer Science.

Larson and Mitch Thornton, executive director of SMU’s Darwin Deason Institute for Cybersecurity, are particularly concerned about hackers using large language models (LLMs), which made popular programs like OpenAI’s ChatGPT possible. LLMs use algorithms and AI to mimic human intelligence, and it can be difficult to determine the difference between an automated AI-based LLM and something written by an actual human.

Hackers can also use AI-generated images created on programs like DALL-E or Midjourney to make phishing emails look even more authentic.

Source: “AI Could Make Cyber Threats Harder to Detect,” Southern Methodist University, Jan. 18, 2024

Voice cloning.

Cyber criminals are also turning to AI tools to clone the voices of individuals they target on social media to place panicked calls to their family or friends in a bid for money or access to sensitive information, said Mike Scheumack, the chief innovation officer at IdentityIQ, in an interview with Fox Business.

They just need to record a person’s voice or find an audio clip on social media or elsewhere on the Internet. “All they need is as little as 3 seconds; 10 seconds is even better to get a very realistic clone of your voice,” he explained.

The audio sample is then run through an AI program that replicates the voice, allowing the scammer to make it say whatever they type in addition to adding laughter, fear and other emotions into the cloned voice.

Scheumack noted the voice clone calls from scammers are typically fairly short and may try to cut off a potential conversation by saying something like, “I can’t talk right now.”

AI programs can also help fraudsters search the Internet for information about individuals and businesses, including audio or video posts on social media, for details that can be used to make more compelling calls to unwitting victims, he added.

Source: “AI voice cloning scams on the rise, expert warns,” Fox Business, Sept. 23, 2023

Flood magnets.

Thousands of homes in the U.S. have flooded again and again—many with little or no efforts for flood mitigation, according to a new analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

NRDC used data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to identify the most flood-prone properties covered by the National Flood Insurance Program.

NRDC’s analysis revealed that 44,616 U.S. homes meet the criteria to be considered “severe repetitive loss properties”—the most flood-prone homes covered by the NFIP. SRLPs have an average of 5.1 NFIP claims, but NRDC noted that the actual number of claims may be even higher.

These homes account for 0.8 percent of all NFIP policies but are responsible for 12.8 percent of the claim payments.

Fewer than 25 percent of the repeatedly flooded properties have received assistance to mitigate flood risks, NRDC said, and many of the homeowners have just dropped their flood insurance altogether.

About 1 in 5 (21 percent) of SRLPs are located outside FEMA-designated flood zones.

Source: “Losing Ground: Flood Data Visualization Tool,” NRDC, Jan. 9, 2024

Shake it up.

Nearly 75 percent of the U.S. could experience potentially damaging earthquakes and intense ground shaking, putting hundreds of millions of people at risk, according to a recent U.S. Geological Survey report.

A team of more than 50 scientists and engineers in the latest USGS National Seismic Hazard Model created a color-coded map that pinpoints where damaging earthquakes are most likely to occur based on insights from seismic studies, historical geologic data and the latest data-collection technologies.

The NHSM update identifies nearly 500 additional faults that could produce a damaging quake. The latest iteration is the first 50-state comprehensive assessment.

Changes in the new model show the possibility of more damaging earthquakes along the central and northeastern Atlantic Coastal corridor, including in the cities of Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York and Boston. In addition, there is a chance for greater shaking in the seismically active regions of California and Alaska. The new model also characterizes Hawaii as having greater potential for shaking because of observations from recent volcanic eruptions and seismic unrest on the islands.

The full findings of the scientific assessment were published in the journal Earthquake Spectra.

Source: “USGS: Nearly 75% of U.S. Could Experience a Damaging Earthquake,” Claims Journal, Jan. 19, 2024

Climate crisis.

A new World Economic Forum report warns that by 2050 climate change may cause an additional 14.5 million deaths and $12.5 trillion in economic losses worldwide.

The report, “Quantifying the Impact of Climate Change on Human Health,” developed in collaboration with Oliver Wyman, provides a detailed picture of the indirect impact climate change will have on human health, the global economy and healthcare systems around the world, and offers actionable strategies to mitigate and prepare for this looming threat.

The report quantifies the health consequences of climate change, both in terms of the health outcomes (mortality and healthy lives lost) and the economic costs to the healthcare system, estimated to be a further $1.1 trillion in extra costs by 2050. The analysis is based on scenarios developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the most likely trajectory for the planet’s rising average temperature, 2.5° to 2.9° Celsius over pre-industrial levels.

WEF analyzed six major climate-driven event categories: floods, droughts, heat waves, tropical storms, wildfires and rising sea levels.

Floods were found to pose the highest acute risk of climate-induced mortality, accounting for 8.5 million deaths by 2050. Droughts, indirectly linked to extreme heat, are the second-highest cause of mortality, with an anticipated 3.2 million deaths. Heat waves take the highest economic toll at an estimated $7.1 trillion by 2050 due to the loss in productivity. Excess deaths attributed to air pollution, caused by fine particulate and ozone pollution, are expected to be the largest contributor to premature death with almost 9 million deaths a year.

The report also found that by 2050 an additional 500 million people may be at risk of exposure to vector-borne diseases due to climate change.

Source: “Climate Crisis May Cause 14.5 Million Deaths by 2050,” World Economic Forum, Jan. 16, 2024