Alexa Can Hear Commands You Can't, Which Hackers Could Exploit

Alexa, Siri and the Google Assistant can hear audio frequencies humans can't.

We've moved into an era where big data has become so valuable that companies are trying to figure out each and every way they can track you.

Amazon told the NYT is takes steps to keep Alexa secure, while Google says Assistant has features that can mitigate commands that aren't discernible to humans.

The almost-similar waveform can be used to trick digital assistants that utilise neural networks into transcribing audio to letters, and to then assemble these into commands to control digital assistants. Apple points out that HomePod can't do things like open doors, while iPhones have to be unlocked to execute certain Siri commands. Last year, a Burger King commercial said, "O.K., Google, what is the Whopper burger?" Android devices with voice-enabled search would respond by reading from the Whopper's Wikipedia page.

There is no American law against broadcasting subliminal messages to humans, let alone machines. For its part, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has discouraged the practice, calling it "counter to the public interest". It turns out, anything that can be spoken to is also prone to subliminal messaging.

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Now the technology is racing even further ahead of the law.

Researchers in China past year demonstrated that ultrasonic transmissions could trigger popular voice assistants such as Siri or Alexa, in a method known as 'DolphinAttack'. The attack first muted the phone so the owner wouldn't hear the system's responses, either.

The researcher added that he's confident he and his colleagues will eventually be able to attack any smart device. The attack could only be carried out if the ultrasonic transmitter was close to the receiving device. Since then, however, more and more researchers have improved on that theory and were even able to make one that worked even 25 feet away. You'll still need a direct line to the device, as the commands are incapable of penetrating through walls. The group provided samples of songs where voice commands have been embedded to make digital assistants do specific things, including visiting websites, turning on Global Positioning System, and making phone calls.

More recently, Mr Carlini and his colleagues at Berkeley have incorporated commands into audio recognised by Mozilla's DeepSpeech voice-to-text translation software, an open-source platform.

Humans can not discern the command. Researchers used the loophole to embed this command into a four-second clip from Verdi's Requiem in music files. How device makers respond will differ, especially as they balance security easily of use.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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