Boffins hack Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri using lasers

Last year TVs and gadgets had their prices cuts Credit Argos Black Friday deals

Last year TVs and gadgets had their prices cuts Credit Argos Black Friday deals

That last one was the topic of a recently published paper from researchers at the University of Electro-Communications Tokyo and the University of MI, who used lasers to remotely control smart speakers, phones, and tablets from hundreds of feet away using "Light Commands". The takeover is instantaneous and silent - a well-placed command to turn the device's volume down to zero would ensure that even its spoken responses could go unnoticed by its hapless owner.

Researchers said the weakness can't truly be fixed without redesigning the microphones, known as MEMS microphones, that are built into these devices, however, which would be a lot more complicated.

The technique requires the laser to actually hit the target device's microphone port, which could get significantly more hard as the distance gets larger. In a second experiment, the researchers successfully issued the same command, but this time from a separate building, about 230 feet away from the targeted Google Home device through a glass window.

Researchers tested a broad range of devices, including smart home speakers from Google, Amazon, and Facebook, along with phones and tablets like the iPhone XR, 6th-gen iPad, Galaxy S9, and Google Pixel 2.

According to the researchers, smart speaker makers can prevent such attacks by placing a light shield in front of the microphone and having two microphones on opposite sides to hear voice commands. With the light commands, the researchers could have hijacked any digital smart systems attached to the voice-controlled assistants.

Microphones on smart speakers and even smartphones convert sound into electrical signals. They even could have remotely unlocked or started a auto that was connected to the device. The encoding within the light and frequency is what enables the attacker to dictate commands to the device. The best and common solution is to keep your voice assistant of the line of sight from outside and avoid giving it access to things that you don't want someone else to access. Smart speakers don't often come with extra security protections - if you issue a voice command, it just works. Instead of sound, however, an attacker can encode unauthorised voice commands into a laser light beam. Many companies haven't even caught up on properly securing their device's software yet, so it remains to be seen what they'll do about their devices' physical security.

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The researchers' video shows how LightCommands work.

A Google spokeswoman told Business Insider: "We are closely reviewing this research paper".

Opening the garage door was easy, the researchers said.

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The researchers noted that they haven't found any evidence to suggest this hack has been used in the real world.

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