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Alexa and Google Assistant hacks let eavesdropping smart speakers do voice phishing
Smart speakers like Amazon Echo or Google Home can certainly be useful tools, but along with that usefulness also comes a number of security concerns. These concerns have been well stated since these smart speakers first hit the market, and today, a team of security researchers are sounding the alarm on exploits affecting Google Home and Amazon Echo devices that developers can use to either eavesdrop on users or phish for personal information.
The Berlin-based Security Research Labs detailed both exploits in a lengthy report published to its website. It’s calling this pair of exploits the “Smart Spies” hacks, and it developed a collection of applications to demonstrate not only how the attacks are carried out, but also the fact that skills or apps carrying these exploits can get around Amazon and Google’s approval processes.
The first Smart Spies hack involves phishing for a user’s password using bogus update alerts. As Security Research Labs explains it, this exploit relies on the fact that once a skill or app is approved by either Google or Amazon, changing its functionality doesn’t trigger a second review. With that in mind, Security Research Labs constructed apps that use the word “start” to trigger functions.
Once the innocuous app was approved by Amazon and Google, Security Research Labs went back in and changed the welcome message for the app to a fake error message – “This skill is currently not available in your country” – to make users believe that the app didn’t start and is no longer listening. From there, Security Research Labs made the app “say” the character sequence for “�.” Since the sequence is unpronounceable, the speaker goes silent for a period of time, reinforcing the notion that neither the app nor the speaker are currently active.
After a reasonable period of silence has passed, the app then plays a fake update alert in a voice that’s similar to the one used by Alexa or Google Assistant. In the videos you see above, this alert makes it seem like there’s an update available for the smart speaker and that users must prompt the speaker to install it by saying “Start update” followed by their password. Since “start” is a trigger word in this case, the attacker captures the user’s password while the victim has no clue that they just gave login credentials to a malicious third-party.
Many of us know that Amazon and Google aren’t going to ask for your password via Alexa or the Assistant, but this hack plays on the ignorance of users who don’t know that. Needless to say, if your smart speaker ever asks for personal information like your passwords or credit card numbers, don’t give that information up.
The second Smart Spies hack is even more worrying, as it can allow your smart speaker to continue eavesdropping on conversations when you think you’ve stopped an app. The process of carrying out this attack is a bit different for Echo devices and Google Home devices, but both attacks rely on changing the way an app functions after it’s been approved by either Amazon or Google.
In both cases, the attack is carried out by leading the user to believe that they’ve stopped an app while in reality it’s still running silently. Once again, the character sequence “�,” is used, and on Echo devices, it’s at this point that the app begins listening for common trigger words such as “I,” though these trigger words can be anything defined by the attacker. The app listens for a few seconds after the user gives the “stop” command, and if the user speaks a phrase beginning with that trigger word, the contents of that conversation are sent off to the attacker’s servers.
On Google Home, this eavesdropping exploit has the potential to run indefinitely, and not only will it eavesdrop on users continuously, but it will also send any other “OK Google” commands the user tries to carry out to the attackers. This means that the exploit could potentially be used to stage man-in-the-middle attacks when smart speaker owners attempt to use another app.
Security Research Labs reported these exploits to both Google and Amazon before publishing its report, in which it says that both companies need to implement better protection for end-users. Central to SRLabs’ criticism is the flawed approval process employed by Amazon and Google, though the researchers also believe that Google and Amazon should take action against apps that use unpronounceable characters or silent SSML messages.
SRLabs believes that Amazon and Google should ban output text that includes “password” as well, since there’s no real reason for apps to ask for those in the first place. In the end, though, SRLabs also says that users should approach new smart speaker skills and apps with a degree of caution, as this report makes it clear creative attackers can do a lot while evading Amazon and Google’s attention.
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The Yoga Smart Tab resembles a tablet in every way except one: it has a massive, rounded edge that houses the unique kickstand and two JBL stereo speakers. This edge looks cumbersome at first glance, but you’ll quickly discover that it is very ergonomic; having this large rounded portion as a grip is very comfortable when using the device as a tablet. Most importantly, however, the kickstand makes it possible to hang the tablet anywhere you can install a hook or nail.
If you sometimes use the tablet in the kitchen — let’s say while you’re cooking in order to scroll through recipes or watch tutorials — you can quickly flip out the stand and hang the tablet on the wall, then retrieve it when you’re finished. The hinge is very solid and tight, meaning you won’t be able to easily knock it over or into the wrong position.
The hinge is capable of two positions: One that locks the kickstand at around a 90-degree angle and another that is close to a 180-degree angle. Both enable the tablet to be used while it is residing on a flat surface like a desk, adjusting the angles as necessary for the user. The 90-degree kickstand angle also makes it possible to use the tablet in a vertical position on a flat surface. When fully opened, the kickstand is used as a mount for hanging the tablet from a hook or nail.
When the tablet is hanging on a wall, it does bounce slightly as you tap the screen; you’d need to put an adhesive strip or something similar behind it to keep it fixed in place, but that would eliminate the option to randomly grab it off the wall and use it as a regular tablet. With that said, the bouncing is minor and doesn’t impact the use of the tablet as a stationary smart display.
Of course, the display can also be placed in a third-party stand for a more stable, long-term mounting solution that doesn’t involve a wall. There is a benefit to having the tablet hanging from a hook, however, and it’s that the audio bounces off the wall and is directed back at the user. This can also have the effect of making the audio a bit flatter, so it all comes down to how the tablet is used and the customer’s own preferences.
Users also have the option of positioning the tablet in a near-vertical arrangement using the built-in kickstand, but there is a downside to this: it is unstable and easy to knock over when simply tapping the screen if you’re not careful. A small bump will send the tablet to the ground, so a third-party display with better stability would be necessary if you have cats or kids.
In addition to the 10-inch display, the tablet features a pair of 2-watt JPL speakers alongside Dolby Atmos. The model also packs three digital microphones in addition to an 8-megapixel front-facing webcam with autofocus. These features make the Yoga Smart Tab a more effective smart display than an ordinary tablet, which is likely to have small, tinny speakers and a low-resolution front camera with poor image quality.
– Qualcomm® Snapdragon 439 octa-core (Up to 2.0GHz)
OS: Android 9 PieDisplay: 10.1″ FHD IPS w/TDDI technologyMemory:
– Up to 4GB RAM
– Up to 64GB eMMC
– Up to 11 hours web browsing*
– Up to 10 hours video playback (1080p)*
– 2 x 2W JBL speakers
– Dolby Atmos
Mic: 3 x digital microphones
– Home Assistant Experience
– The Google Assistant’s Ambient Mode
– Front: 8MP Autofocus
– Rear: 5MP Fixed-focus
Dimensions: 9.5″ x 6.5″ x 0.3-0.9″Weight: 1.28lbsConnectivity:
– 802.11 AC dual-band
– Bluetooth 4.2
– USB Type-C 2.0
– Headphone / mic combo
– MicroSD (up to 256GB)
Color: Iron Grey
BMW’s Intelligent Personal Assistant is a smarter Alexa for the car
BMW plans to add an Intelligent Personal Assistant to its future cars, allowing drivers to interact with the infotainment system by saying “Hey BMW” to the dashboard. The AI aims to simplify the way drivers access and control the increasingly complex features modern cars offer, using natural language rather than demanding owners memorize a long list of specific commands.
For example, there’ll be the ability to change the HVAC settings in the car without reaching for the controls or digging through the menus. Drivers will be able to say “Hey BMW, I’m cold” and have the temperature increased automatically.
Navigation, too, will be integrated. You’ll be able to say “Hey BMW, find me a gas station along the route” and have a location identified and automatically added to the navigation system. If access to a shared calendar and contacts is granted, the assistant will also be able to find parking at the eventual destination, remind the driver when to set out, and flag up potential congestion along the way.
There’ll be integration with Office 365 and Skype for Business, too, so that emails can be read out, or conference calls joined. On the entertainment side, you’ll be able to ask the assistant to identify the music currently playing, or to play something by theme, artist, radio station, or other details.
Perhaps more useful still, it’ll act as a virtual technician. That includes asking questions like “Hey BMW, is the oil level okay?” or getting assistance on how features operate. BMW expects it to be proactive, too, with the assistant able to flag upcoming maintenance issues, like low tire pressure, or remind drivers of scheduled servicing.
BMW isn’t the first to use natural language for its infotainment, mind. Mercedes is already implementing it in the new MBUX system, which will launch on the new A-Class sedan and will also feature on the recently-announced 2023 EQC electric SUV. Part of what BMW is hoping will set its system apart, however, is how it learns from the driver.
By remembering routes, requests, questions, and more, the driver’s own BMW ID profile will be built out. That will be transferrable between cars, since it lives in the cloud, and be able to set preferences like what temperature they like for the cabin and seats, where they commonly drive to, and more. There’ll also be support for renaming the assistant, and linking together multiple commands into a single instruction. Saying “Hey BMW, I’m tired,” for example, could trigger a vitality program including lighting, music, and cabin temperature.
Down the line, meanwhile, BMW plans to expand the assistant beyond the car. Owners will be able to interact with the AI from their smartphone or using a smart speaker, the automaker says. New skills and abilities will also be added.
The Intelligent Personal Assistant will begin to arrive on BMWs from March 2023, the automaker says. The basic version will get voice control in 23 languages, while more natural voice control, Point of Interest Search, Weather and Music, and other features will be supported in the US, UK, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Switzerland, Austria, Brazil, and Japan, as well as China from May 2023.
Cars with the BMW Operating System 7.0 and with the Live Cockpit Professional will be compatible, and owners of the X5, Z4, and 8 Series will be able to upgrade themselves rather than take the car into a dealership. The new BMW 3 Series, meanwhile, will be available to order with the personal assistant from November 2023. That car will get service included for the first three years.
Amazon’s big privacy push includes deleting Alexa recordings by voice
Amazon is enhancing its privacy features for Alexa, its smart assistant technology, making it easier to delete audio interactions in the face of growing user concerns around how much data is being saved. The new update arrives alongside the Echo Show 5, the latest smart display powered by Alexa from Amazon, which itself has a greater focus on privacy in the home.
While it’s not the first Alexa-powered smart display from Amazon to have a camera, for instance, the Echo Show 5 adds a physical camera cover for the first time. That provides some visible reassurance that the camera can’t see what’s going on in the room, alongside the promise that hitting the microphone mute button also electronically disables the video functionality.
While Amazon can’t upgrade its earlier smart displays with a physical camera cover, all Alexa devices are getting a new set of privacy features. For a start, there’s the ability to selectively delete the audio recordings that Amazon saves of each Alexa interaction users have. These records are used by the company to refine the AI’s abilities, and were at the center of a privacy scandal in April when it was revealed that human auditors were listening to select recordings.
You’ve long been able to access those recordings through the Alexa companion app. Indeed, Amazon has also included tools there to report failures in Alexa understanding what was asked of the assistant, as well as remove the records from that timeline. However being able to actually delete the core recordings by voice is something new.
It should make doing so much easier, rather than digging through the Alexa app. Initially, Echo devices will support “Alexa, delete everything I said today,” clearing out all the relevant saved audio from that time period. Down the line, Amazon says, you’ll be able to get more specific, and say things like “Alexa, delete what I just said.”
There’s also a new Alexa Privacy Hub, which covers all Alexa devices. That’s more of a transparency effort than a tool for controlling Alexa, with Amazon setting out to undo some potential assumptions people might have about when the assistant is listening to them, how Echo speakers work, and what is being saved in the cloud. A separate privacy settings section allows audio files to be reviewed, and specific recordings – or all of them – to be deleted. It’s also a place for controlling skill permissions, the third-party abilities that developers can release for Alexa, and controlling how the assistant interfaces with a broader smart home system.
Amazon’s goal is undoubtedly to prevent what have become semi-frequent controversies around just how much data the retailer is able to gather – or at least intuit – based on Alexa interactions. It seems unlikely to win over the hardcore smart assistant skeptics, for whom bringing an always-listening device into their home seems like madness. However, the addition of more granular, easier control over what Alexa saves and what’s deleted might be sufficient to pacify anybody who might have been considering unplugging their smart speaker.
Last Updated on March 9, 2023
In this article, we’ll be talking about Chat GPT and Alexa. These two AI assistants have been very popular in recent years. Alexa might have been around for some time, but Chat GPT is a new kid on the block. Let’s have a look at both of them and see how they both compare with one another.AlexvVs. Chat GPT
Chat GPT is a language model developed by OpenAI, and Alexa is an AI assistant developed by Amazon. Let’s compare them and see what they offer.
Chat GPT is an AI language model that can understand and generate human-like text. It can converse with people for various tasks like answering questions, writing stories, or composing emails.Essential AI Tools
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Alexa, on the other hand, is a virtual assistant that can perform various tasks like playing music, setting alarms, making phone calls, and even controlling smart home devices.Accuracy & Understanding
Chat GPT has been trained on vast data, making it one of the most accurate language models available. It can understand complex queries and provide accurate responses.
However, it may not always provide the most helpful or relevant answer. On the other hand, Alexa has a more limited understanding of language, but it specializes in specific tasks, making it more effective at performing them accurately.Personalization
Chat GPT can be personalized to an individual’s writing style and preferences, which means it can provide more customized responses. It can remember previous conversations, making it easier to pick up where you left off.
You can customize Alexa according to a person’s voice. It means it can recognize who is speaking and provide customizable responses.Availability
Chat GPT is available as an API. Therefore, it can integrate into various applications. These include the likes of chatbots or virtual assistants. However, it is not widely available as a standalone product.
Alexa, however, is widely available as a standalone product. The inbuilt assistant is available on various Amazon devices like the Echo Dot and Fire TV.Privacy & Security
Chat GPT does not collect personal information, and all conversations remain private. Alexa collects data to improve its performance, and there have been concerns about privacy breaches. However, Amazon has tried improving its security features, such as adding a privacy mode.Conclusion
Both Chat GPT and Alexa have their strengths and weaknesses. Chat GPT is more accurate and personalized, while Alexa is more specialized and widely available. Ultimately, choosing between the two depends on your specific needs and preferences.
Smart assistants have reached the point where they can help you with just about anything, but they aren’t restricted to smart speakers or the smartphone in your pocket—they work just as well on your computer, too.
Whether you’re using a desktop or laptop, we’ll show you how to get Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa up and running. If you prefer the built-in Windows and macOS options—Cortana and Siri, respectively—we’ve got those covered as well. We won’t dive too deep into the assistants’ voice commands or features, but we will touch on some of the common ones.Amazon Alexa
Amazon has an official Windows app, which you can download and install from here. A recent update added hands-free voice control, which means you can now shout, “Hey, Alexa,” and get the assistant to do your bidding without touching the mouse or keyboard.
Launch the app and you’ll be asked to sign in with your Amazon account (you’ll need one to use Alexa). If you want to use voice control or hands-free operation, you’ll next need to give the app permission to access your computer’s microphone. You can always change these allowances later in the app’s settings.
Any of the voice commands you’re used to saying to your Amazon Echo work on Windows as well. Just use the “Alexa” wake-up word, followed by your request. Ask to hear music, check the weather forecast, look up information from the internet, and so on.
No official Alexa app for macOS exists yet, but Reverb is a fine (and free) substitute. After installing Reverb from the Mac App Store, sign in with your Amazon credentials, and you’ll be able to start speaking commands to your MacBook or Mac desktop.
Reverb is a neat option for getting Alexa on a Mac. David Nield
Another option is to use Alexa on the web. This will work anywhere you can use a browser, from Chromebooks to MacBooks to Linux computers. Fire up Alexa in the Browser, built by developer Sam Machin, and you’ll again need to log in with your Amazon account, then allow the site to use your computer’s microphone.Google Assistant
You can get a taste of Google Assistant’s functionality on the web. David Nield
At the time of writing there’s no way to get Google Assistant on a Windows or macOS computer, at least not in its full form. As far as desktops and laptops go, Google seems to be saving Google Assistant for Chrome OS computers, which often have a dedicated button that launches the utility.
However, you can load up Google in any web browser on any computer, then tap the microphone icon, to get an approximation of the Google Assistant experience. You’ll need to grant the website access to your computer’s microphone to say commands like: “What is the weather going to be like tomorrow?” or “How old is Barack Obama?” Google will then read responses back to you as search results show up on your screen.
If you’re signed into your Google account, it works even better. Simply ask, “What’s next on my calendar?” or “Show me my photos from Sydney,” and Google will tap into Google Calendar and Google Photos to complete your request.
Ultimately, this is just voice control of the Google search engine, though, not the proper Google Assistant. You can’t stream music, for example, or control your home’s smart lights. For all those extra commands, you’ll need to wait for Google to release an official desktop app.Windows and Cortana
Cortana is ready to do your bidding in Windows. David Nield
To have Cortana respond to “Hey, Cortana,” no keyboard or mouse is necessary. Simply go to Windows Settings via the cog icon on the Start menu, then select Cortana and Talk to Cortana. The same dialog box also lets you set up a keyboard shortcut for the assistant and have it appear on your computer’s lock screen.
Besides the usual assistant commands covering weather, calendar appointments, and more, Cortana can also control different parts of your computer. For example, you can tell Cortana to turn Bluetooth and Wi-Fi on or off, or to launch specific apps.
As yet, there’s no way to launch Cortana on anything other than a Windows computer. No web interface is available, so that’s not an option, and there’s no program either. If you absolutely must have Microsoft’s smart assistant on your Mac, your only option is to install a Windows emulator such as Parallels Desktop.macOS and Siri
Siri comes built into macOS, and gives you lots of options. David Nield
Open the Apple menu on your Mac, then choose System Preferences and Siri to set how the digital assistant works on your macOS computer. You can enable or disable the “Hey, Siri,” voice activation, control Siri’s presence on the lock screen, configure a keyboard shortcut, and turn voice responses on or off.
As with Cortana, you can get Siri to control your computer. Commands include: “Turn Bluetooth on” (or off), “Lower the volume,” “Make the screen brighter,” and “How much disk space is available?” You can also use Siri to launch individual apps such as Safari and Mail.
Unfortunately for Windows users with a fondness for Siri—and perhaps with an iPhone—it doesn’t look like Apple will be pushing its digital assistant to non-Apple hardware anytime soon. While some Apple apps are available through a web browser and the iCloud portal, Siri isn’t one of them.
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