Sci-tech

Voice assistant devices could be more vulnerable than we think

Voice assistant devices could be more vulnerable than we think

According to a report by NY Times, the researchers in China and the United States have begun testing how hidden commands can be sent to Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri that are undetectable to the human ear.

The 2016 research demonstrated commands hidden in white noise, but the students have this month managed to do the same thing in music and spoken text.

Researchers say that scammers could use this technology to ask your device to shop online, wire money or unlock doors.

Of course companies always deny that they are eavesdropping or recording your conversations, but the fact that our devices are constantly on the lookout for trigger words can be disconcerting for some.

"My assumption is that the malicious people already employ people to do what I do", Carlini told The New York Times. This means attackers could leverage this vulnerability to use voice-enabled smart devices, such as Amazon Echo, Apple HomePod, or Google Home speakers, apart from smartphones, without making users aware of the backdoor access. Specifically with respect to the Apple Homepod, the device has been created to "prevent commands from doing things like unlocking doors".

Now the technology is racing even further ahead of the law.

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For now, there are no American rules on broadcasting subliminal messages and hidden commands to humans or machines. That vulnerability, which left the Alexa assistant active even after ending a session, was fixed by Amazon after receiving its report from the researchers' team. Researchers at the University of IL demonstrated ultrasound attacks were possible from 25 feet away. While the commands couldn't penetrate walls, they could control smart devices through open windows from outside a building.

As a practical example, the pair embedded voice commands into a tune called the CommanderSong, and succeeded in tricking speech recognition systems to take actions such as calling phone numbers, turning on Global Positioning System (GPS) features, and to attempt to make a credit card payment plan. Researchers used the loophole to embed this command into a four-second clip from Verdi's Requiem in music files.

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.

"Companies have to ensure user-friendliness of their devices, because that's their major selling point", said Tavish Vaidya, a researcher at Georgetown.

Carlini went on to note that: "We want to demonstrate that it's possible, and then hope that other people will say, 'Okay this is possible, now let's try and fix it'".


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