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Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri can be fooled by 'silent' commands

Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri can be fooled by 'silent' commands

Over the past two years, researchers in China and the United States have begun demonstrating that they can send hidden commands that are undetectable to the human ear to Apple's Siri, Amazon's Alexa and Google's Assistant. A technique called DolphinAttack shows that subliminal messages can even be embedded in sounds inaudible to the human ear.

Music can be transcribed as arbitrary speech, and human beings cannot hear the targeted attacks play out. They can have digital assistants unlock doors of smart homes, transfer money through banking apps, and purchase items from online retailers, all without the user knowing what was happening. New studies conducted since suggest that ultrasonic attacks like that one could be amplified and executed at a distance - perhaps as far away as 25 feet.

The researchers claim they were even able to hide the command, "OK Google, browse to evil.com" in a recording of the spoken phrase "Without the data set, the article is useless".

According to Nicholas Carlini, a fifth-year Ph.D. student in computer security at U.C. Berkeley, it is only a matter of time before this is exploited.

So what are the makers of these voice platforms doing to protect people?

Hackers might not care about your shopping list, but considering 41.4 percent of smart speakers are in the kitchen, it's important to consider whether they could be used to turn on an oven while you're out, or secretly start up a video call. In addition, voice recognition technology prevents Alexa and Google Assistant from following through on tasks requested by an unknown voice. "For example, users can enable Voice Match, which is created to prevent the Assistant from responding to requests relating to actions such as shopping, accessing personal information, and similarly sensitive actions unless the device recognizes the user's voice". Android devices with voice-enabled search would respond by reading from the Whopper's Wikipedia page. The same goes for unlocking smart locks, where the spoken PIN code isn't just an option, but a default requirement.

If users want to change the Assistant's voice, they can first launch the Home application.

All of that said, there's no indication from Amazon that there's anything within Alexa's software capable of preventing attacks like these outright. I'm sure you can dream up other scenarios.

Amazon said that it doesn't disclose specific security measures, but it has taken steps to ensure its Echo smart speaker is secure. In today's day and age, "trust us" might not cut it.

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