Every year, more and more internet-connected gadgets become available to help you stay organized and quickly access the information you need. Amazon Alexa and Google Home are among the most popular smart home devices, serving as a voice-controlled hub that gives you what you need, whether that’s listening to new music, requesting a Lyft ride, or controlling the thermostat.
However, for all the convenience these devices bring you, make sure you understand all the security risks. Here are four security vulnerabilities you need to be aware of before you buy any voice-controlled smart home device.
1. It’s always listening to you.
Both the Echo and the Home include always-on microphones, which one unlucky couple discovered when their private conversation was recorded and sent to a random contact. Both devices have a mute button if you want some privacy, but that prevents you from activating the device with its wake word. This, however, limits one of the greatest conveniences of voice assistants.
If the thought of a corporation or “big brother” listening in on your private phone calls gives you the heebie-jeebies, avoid smart speakers and check your voice assistant settings.
2. Voice assistants can hear better than you can.
…and it’s a big problem. Known as the “Dolphin Attack,” researchers in China were able to create commands in the ultrasound frequency that Siri, Apple’s voice assistant, heard and responded to – all undetected by the human ear. While the attack was demonstrated on Siri, these ultrasonic commands will work on Google Now, Alexa and Cortana.** **
While this attack may seem like something out of a James Bond story, this threat is real and you won’t hear the attack coming.
3. Your device can be used as a pawn in cyber-attacks.
In late 2016, hackers initiated one of the most vicious cyber-attacks of all time, bringing down sites like Netflix, Twitter, Paypal and Spotify. The attack targeted a company called Dyn, which is one of several companies responsible for hosting the underlying infrastructure that powers the internet. The results were devastating.
The attackers were able to accomplish this by using hundreds of thousands of infected smart devices. These devices, using their connection to the internet, then flooded Dyn with so much traffic that it became overwhelmed and froze. Perhaps the worst thing about this particular attack is that the majority of people had no idea that their devices were being used to cause such trouble.
4. If your network is hacked, your smart device is hacked.
The very feature that makes smart devices and appliances so useful is also what makes them so risky. If a hacker gets access to your network, they can effectively monitor or control your smart devices. The pranksters will turn on your TV in the middle of the night and turn the volume all the way up, while more deviant hackers will track your location using your alarm system or fitness band to know when you’re out of the house.
The best way to protect yourself against this kind of attack is to learn how to set up and secure your wireless router correctly, and to take extra precautions to make sure you and your devices are safe.
Regardless of whether you want an Amazon Echo, Google Home, or a smart toilet, make sure that you check your privacy settings on all of your devices. Create strong, unique passwords and change them regularly. Check manufacturers' websites for software updates to keep your devices up to current security standards. Finally, stay in-the-know of any security breaches that hit the news so you can act accordingly to keep you and your personal data safe.