Virtual Home Assistants: Are They Really Secure?

By siliconindia   |   Tuesday, 28 May 2019, 05:36 Hrs
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Virtual Home Assistants: Are They Really Secure?



Virtual home assistants are becoming more and more popular these days. People absolutely love them, as they make their lives easier. If you already use voice search on your smartphone or have a virtual assistant on it, you probably know how handy the feature can be.



Voice-activated smart home assistants are a bit different, but they serve pretty much the same purpose. They use a voice recognition system, but they’re actually smart speakers that you can interact with.



You can use them to play music, send messages and emails, check the weather, order food, or call an Uber. Your voice assistant can also read recipes out loud or google something for you. You can also use it to control other IoT devices in your smart home.



But how secure are virtual home assistants?



The Privacy Risks of Virtual Home Assistants



The Privacy Risks of Virtual Home Assistants



To use your voice-activated smart speaker, you need to connect it to the internet. Every device that uses internet connectivity comes with privacy and security concerns. This is simply because a cybercriminal can hack any of those devices, and gain access to your personal and sensitive information.



This is especially alarming if you connect your smart speaker with other IoT devices in your home, such as your laptop, tablet, or smartphone.



However, the greatest concern among users is the fact that smart speakers “listen” and record all audio within their hearing distance. They’re listening for voice commands so that they can obey in a matter of seconds upon hearing one. For instance, Amazon Echo’s Alexa listens for its wake word “Alexa,” so that it can recognize an upcoming command. It instantly starts recording all audio, analyzes it, sends it to the cloud, and obeys the command – all in a few seconds. The same goes for Google Home and its Google Assistant, and the others like Apple’s Siri, and Microsoft’s Cortana.



But that’s precisely what raises concerns. How do you know who else may be listening in? A hacker could be listening for clues for your security questions, or credit card details. You can mute your virtual assistant, but what if a hacker bypasses that setting?



Don’t worry; there are ways to strengthen the security of your voice-activated smart speakers, and effectively protect your privacy.



How Can You Secure Your Voice-Activated Smart Speakers?



How Can You Secure Your Voice-Activated Smart Speakers?



You can do this by taking the following steps.



1. Protect Your Devices with Complex Passwords



Secure your virtual home assistant’s account with a strong password. Make sure you use two-factor authentication if applicable, to add an extra layer of security.



2. Mute Your Smart Speakers When Not Using Them



This is an excellent way to keep your private conversations, and any sensitive information, private. However, this may not be very convenient, as your assistant wouldn’t be able to respond when you need it. You would need to turn it on and off again constantly. Nonetheless, it’s an excellent way to stop it from listening when it shouldn’t.



3. Create a Guest WiFi Network



This is a great way to protect your devices against potential hackers. If someone with an unprotected device connects to your home WiFi network, a hacker could easily gain access to all your IoT devices.



4. Start Using a VPN



A VPN will direct all your internet traffic through an encrypted tunnel leading to its remote servers (download here). It will hide all your devices, and your online activity, from everyone, including your ISP.



While this is an excellent choice for all your devices, you can’t install a Virtual Private Network on a smart speaker system. However, you can configure it on your router, which will ensure full online security, and prevent your virtual home assistant from potentially spying on you.



This will also keep all your other devices on the network safe and secure, as you can connect an unlimited number of them to your router.



Virtual home assistants are generally not dangerous, but knowing that they might be listening to all your conversations is unnerving. Moreover, cybercriminals are lurking behind every corner, and you certainly wouldn’t want them listening in.



Therefore, be aware of the risks, follow these simple security tips, and start truly enjoying the benefits of your voice-activated smart speakers.



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