In this article we will learn about Hacking Intelligent Personal Assistants.
We are at a point in history where advances in our technology far outstrip our ability to cope. This is typical of our relationship with intelligent personal assistants (IPAs) such as Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana. A recent study by Creative Strategies found something very interesting: while 98% of US iPhone users have tried Siri at some point, only 30% admit to using it regularly. The remaining 70% said they use Siri ‘only occasionally or sometimes.’ Well, Google didn’t fare much better, as users reported feeling embarrassed using these voice recognition tools in public spaces. These numbers don’t paint a pretty picture for companies like Apple, Microsoft, Google and Amazon. And yet they are eager to flex their technological muscles in this race.
This is because these tech goliaths realize that social norms must evolve and user convenience will always outweigh temporary social awkwardness. The opportunity cost is simply too great; The machine intelligence market is expected to grow to a whopping $16 billion by 2022, and IPAs are at the forefront. In the past year alone, we have seen great progress towards the prevalence of IPA. Siri made the jump to the MacBook, Cortana was installed on more than 350 million active devices thanks to Windows 10, and the Amazon Echo home automation hub, powered by Alexa, doubled its sales from the previous year.
But as with any new technology, risks are an integral part of the package. IPAs, while giving you incredibly easy access to information and control over your environment, can also be used to invade your privacy. The reason these tools are able to personalize to a particular person is actually because they collect as much data about them as possible. And it is very possible for this data to fall into the wrong hands.
This article is dedicated to discussing the ways in which IPAs are hacked in general and the consequences of these hacks. We’ll also touch on some basic security measures you should take to prevent potential hackers.
How are IPAs hacked?
The not-so-old adage that “anything connected to the Internet can be hacked” is still very much true. And all IPAs are always online; information needs to be synced to the cloud so that your personal settings are associated with your account and not just one device. This poses problems for keeping your data safe and can be exploited in the following ways:
- The most common IPA hack doesn’t even require an internet connection. Siri is activated on the lock screen by default on every iPhone that ships with it. The same goes for Google Smart Cards on Android devices. So if an unauthorized party somehow gets hold of your phone, they can gain access to your sensitive data without knowing your phone’s password or login pattern. It can simply ask Siri or Google Assistant about your phone book, call log, social media, etc. Although this security breach is quite common, it is not as bad as some other hacks because only people near you can gain physical access. to your phone. It’s also the easiest way to prevent hacking: just take better care of your phone and don’t give it to people you don’t trust.
- Third-party applications can also use IPA for malicious purposes, as they can provide a gateway to your private data. Of course, we should note that most third-party apps provide useful features in addition to these IPAs, such as using Siri to call Uber or text on WhatsApp. And while Microsoft hasn’t allowed Cortana to provide a similar utility — at least not yet — hackers have already developed tools to strengthen Cortana’s control point. While it does little more than add more voice commands to Cortana, you can be sure that third-party involvement will only multiply. However, not every app in the App Store or Play Store can guarantee security. In addition, it is not difficult at all to develop applications that can use IPA. For example, in 2014, a group of college students from the University of Pennsylvania developed a Siri-controlled app in a hackathon. An app called GoogolPlex was programmed to run in place of Siri and override its functions. It did a lot more than vanilla Siri: you could use it to manipulate the room temperature if you had a Nest, as well as open the doors of your Tesla. And if a group of college students can accomplish this during a two-day hackathon, just imagine the havoc someone with the sole intent of malice could wreak.
- IPAs are also vulnerable to more sophisticated attacks. In 2015, computer scientists from the French IT security agency ANSSI discovered a neat loophole in Siri’s voice recognition mechanism. The group used radio waves in tandem with headphones and a microphone to replicate Siri’s voice commands. This hack has also been confirmed to work on Google Now as well. The conditions of the hack had at least one hard limit: the victim’s phone had to be less than 16 feet away from the point of radio wave signal generation. But the killer blow was that your phone could be silently hacked while in your front pocket. Even the toolkit needed for the hack was not difficult to obtain, as only a laptop, a copy of the free software GNU Radio, a radio, an antenna and an amplifier were used.
Consequences of Hacking Intelligent Personal Assistants
IPA hacks can have devastating consequences for user privacy because they provide access points to all the paths where your data is stored; i.e. social media, browser history, app history, etc. Siri and Google Now can be made to expand your call history and phone number and even send text messages. IPAs controlling home automation like Alexa are susceptible to a different kind of harassment. It won’t be an exaggeration to speculate that every Amazon Echo owner has at least once entertained the idea of someone else suddenly taking over their “smart” home: turning on and off lights, triggering a fire alarm, and the like. . And while that hasn’t happened yet, at least on a mass scale, the more people become completely dependent on Alexa on a daily basis, the more incentive there becomes to hack it. Microsoft’s Cortana already does this if you use it on Windows Phone, through an app called INSTEON. Not for long, as Windows Phone is dying, if not already dead.
How to stay safe
- For starters, don’t let strangers tamper with your smart devices. This is a more general measure and applies to anything from your phone to your smart speaker to your laptop. There’s a good reason why social engineering is the most popular method of hacking – because it’s so easy.
- iPhone and Android users should first turn off Siri and Google Now on the lock screen. This will prevent hackers from getting into your data without knowing your passwords. Google Smart Cards are actually disabled on most new Android devices, although your mileage may vary due to the virtually innumerable variants of the operating system.
- Smartphone users can actually teach their iOS or Android devices to respond to just their voice. Both Siri and Google Now come with a feature that lets you teach them the owner’s voice. Although it’s not the most secure way to log in, which even Google agrees with, it’s still much better than your IPA that responds to generic voice commands.
- Use only trusted third-party apps. You should avoid even remotely suspicious apps that promise to make your life better if you give them access to your IPA. The risks are astronomical for anyone who values their privacy.
IPAs will have a bigger role in millions of lives if they don’t already. With this comes the interest of hackers and over time they will become more literate with this relatively new technology, leading to more sophisticated hacks. IPA developers do everything they can to keep your data safe, using techniques like end-to-end encryption, secure cloud storage, and user authentication. However, it is also up to the users themselves to make sure that any potential data leak is blocked immediately.