Undetectable Commands for Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa Raise Serious Security Risks

Undetectable Commands for Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa Raise Serious Security Risks

Fast-forward to 2018 and research claiming music could be hiding secret commands to the voice-controlled personal assistants within our connected devices. Inside university labs, the researchers have been able to secretly activate the artificial intelligence systems on smartphones and smart speakers, making them dial phone numbers or open websites. So while a human listener hears someone talking or an orchestra playing, Amazon's Echo speaker might hear an instruction to add something to your shopping list.

Researchers in the USA and China have discovered ways to send hidden commands to digital assistants-including Apple's Siri, Amazon's Alexa, and Google's Assistant-that could have massive security implications. "My assumption is that the malicious people already employ people to do what I do". This eventually makes the smart devices hear commands that are not detectable to the human ear.

The researchers have now demonstrated that automatic speech recognition, too, is vulnerable to such attacks. They were able to hide the command, "OK Google, browse to evil.com" in a recording of the spoken sentence, 'Without the dataset, the article is useless.' Humans can not detect the command. Researchers used the loophole to embed this command into a four-second clip from Verdi's Requiem in music files.

Nicholas Carlini and David Wagner from the University of California Berkeley devised [pdf] a way to take any existing audio waveform, and produce another one that is 99.9 percent similar.

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With this in mind, wrongdoers could potentially play music within "earshot" of a Google Home's microphone in order to command it to gain access through your smart door lock.

The 2016 research demonstrated commands hidden in white noise, but the students have this month managed to do the same thing in music and spoken text. "By making slight changes to audio files, researchers were able to cancel out the sound that the speech recognition system was supposed to hear and replace it with a sound that would be transcribed differently by machines while being almost undetectable to the human ear".

According to a report by NY Times, the researchers in China and the U.S. have begun testing how hidden commands can be sent to Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri that are undetectable to the human ear.

Apple said it's HomePod smart speaker is created to prevent commands from doing things like unlocking doors, and it noted that iPhones and iPads must be unlocked before Siri will act on commands. Or does this sound far-fetched?

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