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Voice assistants hear things we don’t

Voice assistants hear things we don’tOur interaction with technology could soon be predominantly voice-based. To ask for something out loud and hear the answer is literally child’s play: Just take a look at how effortlessly kids use voice assistants. But new technology always means new threats, and voice control is no exception. Cybersecurity researchers are …

  • 05 Feb 2019
4 min read
Voice assistants hear things we don’t
Our interaction with technology could soon be predominantly voice-based. To ask for something out loud and hear the answer is literally child’s play: Just take a look at how effortlessly kids use voice assistants. But new technology always means new threats, and voice control is no exception. Cybersecurity researchers are tirelessly probing devices so that manufacturers can prevent potential threats from becoming real. Today, we’re going to discuss a couple of finds that, although of little practical application right now, should be on today’s security radar. Smart devices listen and obey More than a billion voice-activated devices are now used worldwide, says a voicebot.ai report. Most are smartphones, but other speech-recognition devices are fast gaining popularity. One in five American households, for example, has a smart speaker that responds to verbal commands. Voice commands can be used to control music playback, order goods online, control vehicle GPS, check the news and weather, set alarms, and so on. Manufacturers are riding the trend and adding voice-control support to a variety of devices. Amazon, for example, recently released a microwave that links to an Echo smart speaker. On hearing the words “Heat up coffee,” the microwave calculates the time required and starts whirring. True, you still have to make the long trek to the kitchen to put the mug inside, so you could easily push a couple of buttons while you’re at it, but why quibble with progress? Smart home systems also offer voice-controlled room lighting and air conditioning, as well as front-door locking. As you can see, voice assistants are already pretty skilled, and you probably wouldn’t want outsiders to be able to harness these abilities, especially for malicious purposes. In 2017, characters in the animated sitcom South Park carried out a highly original mass attack in their own inimitable style. The victim was Alexa, the voice assistant that lives inside Amazon Echo smart speakers. Alexa was instructed to add some rather grotesque items to a shopping cart and set the alarm to 7am. Despite the peculiar pronunciation of the cartoon characters, the Echo speakers of owners watching this episode of South Park faithfully executed the commands issued from the TV screen. Ultrasound: Machines hear things people don’t We’ve already written about some of the dangers posed by voice-activated gadgets. Today, our focus is on “silent” attacks that force such devices to obey voices that you can’t even hear. One way to carry out this type of attack is through ultrasound — a sound so high it is inaudible to the human ear. In an article published in 2017, researchers from Zhejiang University presented a technique for taking covert control of voice assistants, named DolphinAttack (so called because dolphins emit ultrasound). The research team converted voice commands into ultrasonic waves, with frequencies too high to be picked up by humans, but still recognizable by microphones in modern devices. The method works because when the ultrasound is converted into an electrical impulse in the receiving device (for example, a smartphone), the original
Source: Kaspersky Lab official blogPublished on 2019-02-05
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  • 05 Feb 2019

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