Hearing voices: Researchers show how Siri and Alexa could be manipulated

Hearing voices: Researchers show how Siri and Alexa could be manipulated

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.

Voice assistant technology used in Amazon Alexa and Apple's Siri is growing in popularity.

'By starting with any arbitrary waveform, such as music, we can embed speech into audio that should not be recognized as speech; and by choosing silence as the target, we can hide audio from a speech-to-text system, ' the study explained. While DolphinAttacks require the transmitter to be placed in close proximity to the smart device receiving the hidden message, last month researchers were able to send these subliminal message via ultrasound from 25 feet away.

Pictured, a graphic explains how the stealthy attack works. Specifically with respect to the Apple Homepod, the device has been created to "prevent commands from doing things like unlocking doors". Both Amazon and Google make sure that it's the user's voice giving the command before acting on them.

The spokesperson goes on to describe Amazon's efforts at keeping the line of voice-activated Echo smart speakers secure, which they say includes "disallowing third party application installation on the device, rigorous security reviews, secure software development requirements and encryption of communication between Echo, the Alexa App and Amazon servers".

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The paper authored by U.C. Berkley's Nicholas Carlini and his colleagues is really just the latest in a string for research papers and demos proving the efficacy of these kinds of "subliminal" attacks on smart speakers and other devices with always listening smart assistants.

"We want to demonstrate that it's possible", Carlini added, "and then hope that other people will say, 'Okay this is possible, now let's try and fix it'". These commands were reportedly able to activate the artificial intelligence (AI) systems on smartphones and smart speakers to dial phone numbers or open websites - all without the consent of end users.

This is according to researchers at Berkeley who recently published a paper on it dubbed the CommanderSong concept which shows how voice commands can be hidden inside of music. Amazon and Google use technology to block commands that can not be heard.

The team were able to launch attacks, which are higher than 20kHz, by using less than £2.20 ($3) of equipment which was attached to a Galaxy S6 Edge. How device makers respond will differ, especially as they balance security easily of use.

Researchers tested Apple iPhone models from iPhone 4s to iPhone 7 Plus, Apple watch, Apple iPad mini 4, Apple MacBook, LG Nexus 5X, Asus Nexus 7, Samsung Galaxy S6 edge, Huawei Honor 7, Lenovo ThinkPad T440p, Amazon Echo and Audi Q3.

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