What does Alexa know about you?
What’s more fun than having a virtual assistant who can respond to voice commands and answer you back? Asking her ridiculous questions to see what her response will be, of course, is part of the fun. You might expect some confusion or a request to repeat the question but devices like the Amazon Echo Dot and others have actually been created with a sense of humour in mind. When asked, “Alexa, who you gonna call?”, she seamlessly replies with “Ghostbusters,” obviously.
People all over the country are trying new ways to catch Alexa out, with blogs dedicated to questions you can ask her and what she will answer. This humanising of our virtual assistants is revealing of the way we relate to them and the part they play in our private lives. The information we’re giving away about ourselves is very personal; tastes in music, what we like to eat, where we live, who we talk to. Then there is the other information we don’t like to think about, all the conversations we have in our home spaces, which can also be picked up by those same devices.
What are these devices we’ve invited into our lives? When we ask Alexa a question we are actually communicating with a cloud-based service which uses intuitive voice commands to perform specific tasks for us. The Alexa Voice Service (AVS) is Amazon’s intelligent voice recognition and natural language understanding service, meaning it’s not on-ly information we’re sharing but our unique voiceprints too.
This leads us to the question of security and what someone with malicious intent could do with all this information, including our voice biometrics. Researchers from Indiana University, the University of Virginia and the Chinese Academy of Sciences have revealed a new way to snoop on Google Home and Amazon Echo devices, it’s called “voice squatting”. The researchers found it possible to create a set of ‘malicious skills’ which can then be invoked by a user’s voice command to hack the device. Once on the device, the hackers can then conduct a malicious activity, like continuing to record audio when the device is supposed to have stopped.
Device manufacturers are focusing their efforts to secure these vulnerabilities and detect these types of attack but the researchers are skeptical there are any truly effective protections currently in place. So, next time you’re making fun of Alexa bear this in mind and spare a thought for whoever else might be listening.
At Storm Internet, we offer fully-managed web hosting and secure email so that you can feel confident your data is as safe as possible. We recognise that threats are constantly evolving and strengthening, which is why we use proactive measures to ensure your employees can communicate effectively without compromising sensitive data or exposing a company to a threat.
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