Amazon Alexa Is Sensitive

August 17, 2020

The gimmick behind digital assistants is with a simple vocal command, using a smart speaker like Amazon Echo, users have access to knowledge and can complete small tasks. Amazon is either very clever or very clumsy when it comes to digital assistant Alexa. Venture Beat shares that, “Researchers Identify Dozens Of Words That Accidentally Trigger Amazon Echo Speakers” in a recent study.

The problem with digital assistants, other than them recording conversations and storing them to the cloud, is who will have access tot these conversations. LeakyPick is a platform that investigates microphone equipped devices and monitors network traffic for audio transmissions. LeakyPick was founded by University of Darmstadt, North Carolina State University, and the University of Paris Saclay.

LeakyPick was designed to test when smart speakers are activated:

“LeakyPick — which the researchers claim is 94% accurate at detecting speech traffic — works for both devices that use a wakeword and those that don’t, like security cameras and smoke alarms. In the case of the former, it’s preconfigured to prefix probes with known wakewords and noises (e.g., “Alexa,” “Hey Google”), and on the network level, it looks for “bursting,” where microphone-enabled devices that don’t typically send much data cause increased network traffic. A statistical probing step serves to filter out cases where bursts result from non-audio transmissions.”

To identify words that could activate smart speakers, LeakyPick uses all words in a phoneme dictionary. After testing smart speakers: Echo Dot, HomePod, and Google Home over fifty-two days. LeakyPick discovered that the Echo Dot reacted to eighty-nine words, some phonetically different from Alexa, to activate.

Amazon responded it built privacy deep into Alexa and sometimes smart speakers respond to words other than command signals.

LeakyPick, however, does show potential for testing smart home privacy and how to prevent them.

Whitney Grace, August 17, 2020


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