Someone is tricking voice assistants with white noise and secret commands

Privacy fears as new study finds that hackers can control Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant using secret commands

By playing this to the speakers, they can hear the silent commands while we can't.

Researchers at China's Zhejiang University published a study a year ago that showed numerous most popular smart speakers and smartphones, equipped with digital assistants, could be easily tricked into being controlled by hackers.

They used an external battery, an amplifier, and an ultrasonic transducer.

"My assumption is that the malicious people already employ people to do what I do", Nicholas Carlini, a Ph.D. student in computer security at UC Berkeley and co-author of the study, tells WRAL Tech Wire. Nearly all of these devices are created to receive and analyze audio, including spoken commands, on a wide range of frequencies, including frequencies inaudible to the human ear. With nearly all virtual assistants getting more features, its time we address the inherent security loopholes they open up.

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While Amazon, Apple, and Google are busy making their voice assistants smarter, a group of researchers claims that the present iterations of the companies' voice assistants are vulnerable. Speech recognition systems typically translate each sound to a letter, eventually compiling those into words and phrases.

What these research studies prove is that it's possible to manipulate speech recognition gadgets by making minute changes to speech or other audio files. Both Amazon and Google make sure that it's the user's voice giving the command before acting on them. Last year, Burger King caused a stir with an online ad that purposely asked: "OK, Google, what is the Whopper burger?" It turns out, anything that can be spoken to is also prone to subliminal messaging. Now, two of those Berkeley students have published a paper that says they can hide such commands in recordings of music or even human speech. Since then, however, more and more researchers have improved on that theory and were even able to make one that worked even 25 feet away. During the Urabana-Champaign, they showed that though commands couldn't yet penetrate walls, they still had the potential to control smart devices through open windows in buildings. Researchers used the loophole to embed this command into a four-second clip from Verdi's Requiem in music files.

More recently, Mr Carlini and his colleagues at Berkeley have incorporated commands into audio recognised by Mozilla's DeepSpeech voice-to-text translation software, an open-source platform.

"Companies have to ensure user-friendliness of their devices, because that's their major selling point", said Tavish Vaidya, a researcher at Georgetown.

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