How safe are voice assistants?

Voice assistants, also known as smart speakers, have revolutionized the way we live our lives, and many homes and offices around the country now have one. The most popular assistants are Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home and Apple’s Siri, which use the Internet of Things to allow us to browse the web, access the news and weather, shop, send emails and manage our energy consumption. Their rise in popularity proves how helpful they can be but having them also comes with a serious risk. The range of activities that these speakers can perform means that if hackers were to gain access, they could use your information for illicit activity. So how secure are they against these threats?

Remember that unless it’s switched off, it’s ready to listen

Most assistants on the market will require a voice command to wake up, “Ok Google” or “Hello Alexa”, as this lets them know that the user is ready to ask it something. As a result, anything said on the radio or TV can accidentally trigger the assistant’s services. For instance, in April, Burger King aired a TV advert designed to wake up Google Home, by having an actor say, “OK Google, what is the Whopper burger?”.

While this might seem harmless, once it is awake, it will record everything which is said and store it within backend servers. Therefore, there’s always a danger that if the servers were to be breached, users’ voice files would be exposed and could be taken. To prevent this from happening, switch off your device if it’s not in use. But if you forget, don’t worry, you can delete saved recordings through the Alexa App.

The device can be controlled by anyone

It’s easy to forget that smart speakers are designed to be at the center of the IoT ecosystem. So, whilst they allow users to surf the internet, they can also communicate with and control all the other internet-enabled technology in the house.

Recently, researchers have discovered what is known as a “Dolphin Attack” which allows hackers to secretly communicate with your device through white noise or YouTube videos – letting them send text messages or open up malicious websites without the owners knowing.

For this reason, we advise you to not connect your device to any IoT security solutions such as smart door locks. If someone were to notice they were IoT-enabled, hackers could instruct the device to unlock your front door and let themselves in.

Similarly, whilst it is necessary to have your assistant use your bank details for seamless payments and your passwords for easy logins, you should never loudly say your card numbers when not using the assistant for purchases – if Malware is installed without your knowledge, it could record and send these details to a hacker.

Remember – anything connected to the internet can be infected with malware and smart speakers are not exempt from this – so try to regularly update your device’s internet security for maximum protection. It only takes one breach for your data to be taken.

All the popular manufacturers (Amazon, Apple and Google) have built security protocols into their devices to protect against any breaches, but it is always best to take precautions and only store essential personal information within these devices.

In this digital age, concerns around privacy and the security of data held in voice assistants are warranted. After all, any device which is either voice-activated or connected to the internet is susceptible to mis-use or hacking. However, by following security guidelines, such as keeping an eye on which personal information you share with the speaker or by regularly deleting your saved files, you can minimize the risk of a security breach.