Alexa, Stop Putting My Information on Blast

Smart technology has become a staple of our everyday lives.  We rely heavily on everything from navigation apps to speech to text to complete tasks, obtain information, and to simply make life easier.  Amazon’s, Alexa, is a smart speaker that has joined our convenience world.

Users can manage information functions through voice commands and app capabilities.  Though Alexa can help you with shopping, directions, and the weather forecast, she does have issues.  Imagine your private conversation being sent by text message to acquaintances without your knowledge. Alexa is also doing that.

Alexa, Be Secure

With assistance from the Alexa app, you can control features both from your home and your personal devices. “Alexa, play my messages”, is a common command that allows users to pair the speaker with their phones.  To be honest, if your hands are busy it’s pretty useful.  Since Alexa is powered by artificial intelligence (AI), the speaker stores the command history to better serve you in the future.  This makes the device “smarter.” However, Alexa is highly susceptible to cyber threats. Stored data can and will be used against you.  The police have already accessed Alexa information to make cases.

But the police are the least of your worry when using Alexa and other voice-activated technologies.  Let us look at the few “slip-ups” and vulnerabilities security experts have identified. Alexa sometimes picks up a different word by mistake and reads your messages when strangers are around.  This could make for an awkward scenario, but secondly, it can reveal some personal information that you don’t want to be shared. In other cases, the speaker has called people, sent text messages, and made unwanted purchases.  This means if someone else can access your Alexa, they can do the same things.

Alexa is connected through an internet connection that is typically powered by a home or office Wi-Fi.  Nefarious actors looking to exploit your data can easily hack the system if it is not properly secured. The type of security that you purchase is completely up to you, but we would recommend starting with using best practices.  Things like checking that the default WI-FI password has been changed. If you are pairing several smart devices throughout your home, assure each is connected according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

IT professionals and cybersecurity personnel across North America and Europe were surveyed by Spiceworks.  125 of 500 thought implementing voice-activated systems in their networks was a good idea. The other 375 said they would not use smart assistants.  As a matter of fact, they all talked about tracking down traditional IT system vulnerabilities allowing listening at their facilities.

Hacking Alexa

If hackers are successful, they have opened the gateways that are flooded with your personal data.  Many of the files that are stored on cloud systems are also not encrypted, which makes it that much easier to gain access to passwords, emails, and other important information.   As much as we love having Alexa, turning on the lights or our favorite show, it is critical to have cybersecurity measures in place.  These are measures, like assuring your most sensitive information is stored on computers not authorized to be linked to the system. The connection to the Internet increases the probability Alexa can or will be hacked.  And when she is, you will feel like Alexa is putting your information on blast.

Alexa and any other device connected to the Internet can be manipulated and because they are machines, they can malfunction.  You just want to be sure the slip-up is not in a privacy-infringing way. Some conversations that might be heard are no big deal.  However, you don’t want that one special conversation she reports to others to cheat you out of a big deal.

Two issues are at the center of Alexa issues.  The first is the always-on listening status. The second is the connection to the Internet.  When you respect the potential failure of machines and the skill of hackers your risk will go down.  Awareness is key to you safely enjoying the convenience Alexa provides. Caution is the key to better securing your digital life.

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