Updated: Feb 3, 2021
Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and others can make our lives much easier, especially if they are connected to our smart homes and devices, and even our security systems. However, researchers at the University of Michigan and the University of Electro-Communications, Tokyo have uncovered a serious flaw.
According to IFSEC Global, a security flaw in virtual assistants’ microphones may put our devices, privacy, and security at risk. The study, which was published last year, revealed that hackers can potentially take over voice-controlled devices like iPhones using tools as simple as laser pointers.
The researchers have since been conducting more in-depth investigations, and are due to present the latest version of their research in December. They discovered that devices with personal assistants like Siri respond to light waves the same way they do to sound waves.
Simply by pointing a laser beam at the microphone, the researchers could trick the device into accepting commands as if it hears a verbal cue.
The researchers spent seven months testing the hack on devices enabled with Google Home, Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri, finding out they could transmit light commands from hundreds of feet away, using everyday items such as cheap cat toy laser pointers and flashlights.
If a hacker can hijack a virtual assistant, they can then access anything that requires a voice command, which for those who use Siri as an egg timer or a shopping list reminder may not cause much cause for alarm.
But it should be of much greater concern to those who have security systems connected to virtual assistants. The hacker would be able to turn off home security systems, order items online using saved credit card info, or even access medical devices that are synced with the assistant.
The researchers are currently unaware of any cases where an attacker has used this method, but they have offered advice to anyone worried about the vulnerabilities, mainly, keep your device away from windows or any line of sight where it could be accessed - light can only travel in a straight line.
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