Are Voice Activated Smart Speakers Compromising Our Security?

With all the hype in the market about the much popular voice activated smart speakers, most of the owners of this smart device seem ecstatic to add it in their home. Well, this technology does deserve to be talked about and praised among tech lovers. Till a few years back we couldn’t have thought of a speaker that could go beyond our imagination in terms of entertainment and also assisting us in daily chores. Voice activated smart speakers are installed in your home and just need a specific word, based on their make and model, to put them to work. Once they’re listening, you can get them to work for you like playing your favorite tracks, control other smart devices, read you stories or even order something online.

Smart speakers require a wake up word that varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. If you’ve Google Home, it is ‘Ok Google’ and for Amazon Echo owners it is ‘Alexa’. If you focus at the market share of smart speaker makers, Amazon Echo rules with over 70 percent market share that counts to more than 20 million devices across the U.S. On the other hand, Google Home holds almost the rest of the share with a little contribution of Microsoft Cortana and Apple’s HomePod.

Voice activated smart speakers

Undeniably the benefits of smart speakers are way ahead of our expectations and no stone has been left unturned to please us with performance. However, when it comes to privacy, you might want to get your head around it. Smart speakers have reportedly found providing ways that might interfere with your privacy. If your device is accessible by anyone out of your trusted contacts, you can imagine the irreparable damage it may cause.

What Risks Are We Talking About?

If you take a close look at the process of smart speakers, you find that whatever that you say after the wake up word, it goes to a backend server that too on an encrypted connection. However, the encrypted path is only followed if the device works the same way it was designed. Taking reference of a controversial incident with one such device, a journalist was given a Google Home Mini before its release. The person found out that the device was creating recordings even when the wake up word wasn’t pronounced. Although, Google claimed that it was a hardware fault that included the “phantom touches” on button that made it activated.

Though the problem was fixed long back, it was understood that anyone can listen to your conversation at anytime. The device, when not in shape, may contribute to breach your privacy. Such devices may even be used by unauthorized people and with a little touch-up it becomes a dedicated voice recorder without you even knowing about it. It is important that you keep your accounts safe with strong passwords and two-factor authorization.

Voice content

Another problem that comes with smart speakers is that anyone visiting you can wake it up with their voice. If you’ve got some nasty friends, they might even peek into your calendar or the secret shopping list that you don’t’ want to share with anyone. There are chances that you might end up waking up at 2 o’clock in the night with the loudest sound emitting from your ultrasonic speakers. Friends can do anything to nag you and if they find something like a smart speaker, they’ve got the help too.

If you analyze, you would find that the biggest worry associated with the smart speakers is the probability of someone making purchases using them. Although, Amazon Echo does have the purchase option turned on by default with a four digit passcode, it is not too hard for someone to memorize it. There’ve been reports of children buying products without their parents consent and realization. Sometimes, this unauthorized purchase habit may turn out to be something messy that is hard to tackle.

Voice purchasing settings

To refrain your device from making unauthorized purchases, there’s not much that you can do except differentiating between voices. Once voice recognition is in working condition, your device should differentiate between the voices of your family members and proceed with the account associated with that voice.

As far as the infection in these speakers is concerned, there are little chances of such incidents. If your laptop is suffering from any such intrusion and shares the same connection as your smart speaker, the chances of spreading these malware increase undoubtedly. There may be a chance that someone may change the settings of your speaker as per their requirements. Here, it is important that you keep your smart speaker secured like your Wi-Fi connection.

Experts suggest that if you’re new to smart speakers, it is important that you don’t rely too much on them. For instance, if you assign your speaker the responsibility to open the door and manage the security camera recording, any unauthorized person may intrude and change it. It just requires for them to say “open the door”, “stop the camera recording” or  “turn off the alarm system” etc. The same level of risk goes with your confidential activity planned in calendar or the to-do list.

If you study the records as of now, you find that all the activities that include the misuse of smart speakers were done through abusing the commands. There were no modifications in the software or the coding of these devices. Most of the vulnerabilities have already been taken care of by Amazon and Google for their devices. However, it is always good to keep an eye at the working and the security of your devices.

How To Protect Your Smart Speaker?

If you’ve changed your mind after reading about the risks involved with a smart speaker, think again. It may have certain risks but they’re not something new or untackable. You’ve been taking care of bigger risks than these in your routine life that include keeping your computer out of viruses and securing your Wi-Fi. Here, with smart speakers, no such irregularities have been found so far where a massive loss or an intrusion was ever tried. If you take proper precautions, you can enjoy the bundle of luxury and assistance from these incredibly smart speakers. There’re a few things you can ensure while setting up a new device at your home:

  • Account Setup: You must be careful while setting up your new device with your account as your existing account may contain a few confidential data that you may not want put at risk . Also, do not set up your device with an official account and if possible, create a new personal account especially for the smart speaker.
  • Security: Like any other thing that uses Internet to communicate, security is essential. For your smart speaker, consider using a WPA2 encrypted Wi-Fi network instead of an open connection. To avoid any unwanted situation, make sure you turn off the purchasing or set up a purchase passcode.
  • Guest Network: To not to fall for any prank by your friends, make sure you set up a dedicated guest network and avoid other unsecured IOT devices.
  • Sensitive Information: Although, smart speakers can be trusted when its about safety, you can still limit the information to save on it. It is recommended that you do not save any sensitive information on your device.

Overall, smart speaker is a technological boon that has been developed to ease life and add some luxury to it. Despite all the risks associated with these devices, the usage and benefits are able to fade away any doubts you might have before using it. You can enjoy the seamless service and assistance without the worry of being watched or duped by maintaining a base level precautions. We would love to know about your perspective on Smart Speakers and if they are really impacting our privacy. It would be great if you could take out some time to share your thoughts in the comments section below!


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