Digital Assistant

OK, Google. “How Safe Are Voice-Activated Assistants like You?"

It is not uncommon these days to find people more prone to talk to their smartphones than a human sitting right alongside. Flatmates, personal assistants and in short, human companions are so passé now. We exist in the era of voice-activated assistants. Voice-activated assistants represent the new generation of Artificial Intelligence enabled digital assistants who shall leave no stone unturned in making your house, office, car, refrigerator or any other part of your life SMART. Welcome to the world of Smart Technology. Thanks to Smart Technology, we now have upon us digital assistants in the form of voice-activated assistants.

Some call it Siri, some call it Alexa and some know it as Google Assistant. They may have different names but they all belong to the same species of digital assistants who are always at your service. Well, at least as long as you belong to the world connected by the Internet of Things and Smart Technology! But, is it okay to entrust them with our confidential data? How safe are voice-activated assistants? With nearly 20 million homes across the world already having a voice-activated assistant, it is about time that we look at the flipside of Smart Technology.

Voice-Activated Assistants Can Hear Commands That You Can’t!

Sorry if this breaks your heart but researchers in China and the United States have found that the AI (Artificial Intelligence) systems in Smartphones and Smart Speakers can be activated remotely to make them open random sites or even dial numbers! In fact, researchers in the university labs were able to send hidden commands to Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa that were completely undetectable to the human ear. This means that a mechanism like this could be leveraged in devious ways if it falls in the wrong hands – it can open the doors of a smart home, purchase stuff online or, engage in online transactions – with you being completely oblivious to it!

Unraveling the Mystery of White Noise

In the simplest of words, the type of noise that is created when sounds of different frequencies are combined together is known as ‘White Noise’. Wondering how white noise is relevant in this context? Well, White Noise is frequently utilized to mask other sounds as it contains sounds of all frequencies. This is because a human brain is able to pick out and process only one of the many voices that it hears at a time. Therefore, when a human brain is subjected to sounds of many different frequencies, it is unable to pick up just one amongst them and this creates an audio illusion of a fuzzy, static sound. Imagine the sound that you hear when your radio or television is unable to pick up signals. You can’t really define that sound, can you? Well, that’s what white noise is all about! Coming back to the present context. A group of students from the University of California, Berkeley and Georgetown University demonstrated the use of white noise for masking secret commands communicated to smart speakers. These commands which could not be heard by humans could make the devices open a website and even turn on the airplane mode on the smartphone connected to it!!!

Can We Really Trust Voice-Activated Assistants?

While each day brings forth a fresh evolution in Smart Technology, it also brings with it a host of loopholes that can be exploited by conmen. If you have been eyeing that Amazon Echo for your next big purchase, then do take a moment to ponder on how safe are voice-activated assistants? They have been found to have privacy and security vulnerabilities so grave that you could run the risk of having your bank details compromised!

A recent paper published by a group of Berkeley researchers has stated how easy it is these days to embed commands into a piece of music or spoken text. So when this piece is played on your smart speaker, the embedded commands may actually be purchasing something online on your behalf while you are grooving merrily to the music! Although the research scholars maintain that these experiments have been conducted strictly within the confines of their lab, it would not be long before these techniques are exploited by someone! This clearly demonstrates that though “Artificial Intelligence” has emerged as a promising technology, it is not that difficult to trick and manipulate it. Research and consulting firm, Ovum, has predicted the number of devices with built-in digital assistants to grow to over 7.5 billion by 2021. At this rate, there would be a time very close in the near future when digital assistants would surpass the number of humans on this planet!

What Companies Have to Say?

Amazon maintains that it has taken necessary measures to ensure that its smart speaker is safe and does not result in a security compromise for its users. Google has declared that the security of its devices is an ever-evolving process and that its Assistant is capable of deterring undetectable audio commands. Both Amazon and Google have maintained that their voice-activated devices are based on robust voice recognition technologies that prevent them from acting on commands unless they are in the user’s voice. Apple has also come out in the defense of its voice-activated smart speaker, HomePod, saying that it has been so designed that it defies commands such as unlocking doors. Additionally, it would require iPhones or iPads to be unlocked before Siri can act on any such command that accesses confidential data or is intended to open apps/websites.

Incognito Forensic Foundation (IFF Lab) – A Name Synonymous with Cyber Security

With its headquarter in Chennai, India, and a presence that spans the whole country, IFF Lab is a non-profit organization that was established to contribute towards the growing needs of cyber and digital forensics in the country. IFF Lab is a private forensic lab that provides forensic services and solutions to Law Enforcement Agencies and private organizations, and can also be easily approached by any citizen for investigations pertaining to any grave or petty offense. Being equipped with a state-of-the-art digital forensics lab and empowered by a team of erudite forensic experts, Cyber and Digital Forensics continue to be their largest stronghold. Whereas trusting your digital assistants with your security and privacy is completely up to you, IFF Lab has emerged as a name that can be trusted in the forensic science domain. IFF Lab provides services and solutions for Cyber Security Analysis and Assessment, and for Data Protection and Information Security that enables corporates and public enterprises strengthen their cyber security and cyber crime response mechanism to mitigate cyber attacks and minimize the damages caused by them.

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