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Is The Smart Speaker At Home Listening And Recording Your Personal Conversations?

According to Amazon, the voice utterances spoken to the device may be used in order to deliver and improve its services.

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Smart speakers
According to Amazon, the voice utterances spoken to the device may be used in order to deliver and improve its services. Pixabay

At a time when digital assistants and smart speaker at home in smart devices at home or office are talking to us like never before, some users have begun to worry: Is Alexa or Google Home listening and recording personal conversations beyond the “wake” word?

There are multiple triggers to such concerns, the latest one being a person in Germany using Amazon’s voice assistant who received 1,700 audio files from a person he never met.

A woman in the US state of Oregon was in shock last year when the Amazon Echo device at her Portland home recorded a private conversation and then shared it with one of her husband’s employees in Seattle.

Amazon later clarified that Alexa mistakenly heard a series of commands and sent the recording as a voice message to one of the husband’s employees.

The threat is very much real, with more and more Indians being hooked to the always-on and Internet-connected smart home devices.

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A hacker has already developed a method to install malware on a pre-2017 Amazon Echo that streams the microphone to any remote computer. Pixabay

In a latest Forrester report titled “Secure The Rise Of Intelligent Agents”, Amy DeMartine and Jennifer Wise argue that currently, introductory versions of intelligent agents include Alexa, Cortana, Google Assistant and Siri. However, security is not part of the equation, and unless security pros get involved, the implications are more worrisome for businesses than normal human beings.

“Alexa doesn’t currently authenticate or authorise individuals who access it, leaving a company’s Alexa skills unprotected from anyone who can remember another user’s commands,” reads the report.

“A hacker has already developed a method to install malware on a pre-2017 Amazon Echo that streams the microphone to any remote computer, accesses the owner’s Amazon account, and installs ransomware,” the Forrester report added.

Apple logs and stores Siri queries but they are not associated with an Apple ID or email address, and the company deletes the association between queries and their numerical codes after six months.

Amazon and Google devices, however, save query histories until the customer deletes them, and Microsoft Cortana users must manage their own data retention preferences in the Cloud and on their devices.

According to Puneesh Kumar, Country Manager for Alexa Experiences and Devices, Amazon India, the threat of Alexa recording all your conversations is not real as the company has created layers of privacy protections in all of its Echo device.

“It includes a mute button involving a hardware press that electrically disconnects the microphones and cameras, clear visual indicators when utterances are being captured and streamed, as well as the ability to see and delete voice recording history for their devices,” Kumar told IANS.

Echo speakers use on-device keyword spotting to detect the “wake” word and only the “wake” word. When the “wake” word is detected, the light ring around the top of the device turns blue to indicate that Alexa is streaming audio to the Cloud.

“At any time, you can turn the microphone off by pushing the microphone button on the top of the device and this creates an electrical disconnect to the mic, which will turn on a red ring to visually indicate that the device is muted,” informed Kumar.

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According to Amazon, the voice utterances spoken to the device may be used in order to deliver and improve its services.

The users, if needed, can delete specific voice recordings associated with their accounts by going to History in Settings in the Alexa App, drilling down for a specific entry, and then tapping the delete button. You can also delete all voice recordings associated with your account for each of your Alexa-enabled products. (IANS)

Next Story

Transparency Centre To Open by Kaspersky in Malaysia in 2020

Kaspersky to open first transparency centre in Malaysia in 2020

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This would be the firm's third "code review" centre across Asia-Pacific. Pixabay

Russian cyber security firm Kaspersky on Thursday announced the opening of its first transparency centre in Malaysia in early 2020, in partnership with CyberSecurity Malaysia — the national cyber security specialist agency.

The centre will be located in Cyberjaya city in Selangor state, alongside key cyber-related government agencies and companies in the country.

Kaspersky has so far opened two more transparency centres at Zurich in November 2018, and Madrid in June 2019, in Europe.

According to the Kaspersky, its transparency centres serve as trusted facility for the company’s partners and government stakeholders to come and check the source code of firm’s solutions.

With the opening of the new establishment probably “early next year”, Kaspersky’s Managing Director for Asia-Pacific, Stephan Neumeier said it would be the firm’s third “code review” centre across Asia-Pacific.

The intent is to make it function as a briefing centre where guests would be able to learn more about Kaspersky’s engineering and data processing practices, he said at a Kaspersky event here.

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Kaspersky has so far opened two more transparency centres at Zurich in November 2018, and Madrid in June 2019, in Europe. Pixabay

“We are excited to unlock the doors of digital hub to let users experience the services and capabilities of Kaspersky’s cybersecurity technology here in our region,” Neumeier said.

He said the aim is to address the “growing demand from partners and government stakeholders for more information on how Kaspersky’s products and technologies work”.

“As a paradigm shift for the cybersecurity industry, this facility — the first in the region — will be located in Cyberjaya, all thanks to the kind cooperation of CyberSecurity Malaysia.

“We are grateful for their trust and commitment towards us as this third-party validation proves that private companies and public agencies can team-up to better protect users from cyber crime,” he said.

Founded in 1997, Kaspersky, a global cybersecurity company, started the global transparency initiative with its announcement in October 2017.

And since then, the Russia-based firm claims that over 40 crore users are protected by its technologies and it helps 2.70 lakh corporate clients protect what matters most to them.

Commenting on the opening of the transparency centre, Eugene Kaspersky, CEO of Kaspersky, said: “It is great to be here in Kuala Lumpur — in the heart of the Asia-Pacific region– to announce the opening of our third transparency centre.

“Here, we intend to show customers and government stakeholders that our products are 100 per cent trustworthy and ensure the highest level of cybersecurity protection. The launch also proves the activities we planned under our pioneer Global Transparency initiative remain on track.”

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In partnership with CyberSecurity Malaysia, Russian cyber security firm Kaspersky will be opening its first transparency centre by 2020. Pixabay

Speaking at the event, Amirudin Abdul Wahab, CEO of CyberSecurity Malaysia said: “As the threat landscape continues to evolve in Malaysia and in the region, we believe it is crucial for private companies such as Kaspersky and government agencies to build trust and mutual cooperation. Kaspersky’s willingness to open their doors and data processes further shows they have nothing to hide.”

As a third-party entity, Wahab said, the CyberSecurity Malaysia also shares their insights and concerns to make the cybersecurity industry better.

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CyberSecurity Malaysia, an agency which works under the purview of the Ministry of Communication and Multimedia, is committed to providing a broad range of cybersecurity innovation-led services, programmes and initiatives to help reduce the vulnerability of digital systems, while at the same time, strengthening Malaysia’s self-reliance in cyberspace.

“We are really hopeful that our partnership will be an example for more government and private entities in exercising fairness and transparency for the benefit of our citizens and the cybersecurity industry,” Wahab added. ((IANS)