Security Concerns for Echo and Google Home, and Ways to Stay Secure

October 26, 2017
EMAIL AND TECHNOLOGY

Voice-activated assistants, once thought a luxury of the future, have arrived. Devices like the Amazon Echo and Google Home are being mass-marketed as the latest technological trend to make daily living just a bit easier.

With every breakthrough in technology, however, comes risks for security issues. To combat hackers from accessing our browsing history, we may mask our IP addresses, and to protect our messages, we may opt for encrypted email providers and a private email address. But how do we manage threats from a voice-activated assistant?

First, let’s look at what those threats may be. Echo and Google Home are activated by certain commands; for instance, when you say “Alexa” to Echo, it comes alive. The user can inquire about the weather, sports scores, directions, music and much more — and the device gets right to work finding and announcing answers. They can be used to alert users of appointments, store important reminders and to tap into the owner’s contacts to make calls and send messages. Overall, it’s a lot of power wrapped up in a small package.

Each task the device performs is stored — not within the assistant, but rather on a cloud-based server operated by the manufacturer. That means each user’s commands, search history and potentially sensitive information is amassed externally, which could pose a security threat.

Such devices may even have the power to record data when the owner isn’t actively using it. Homicide investigators in Arkansas are currently working to extract information from an Echo that was in the home of a man who was murdered; though it wasn’t actually being used at the time of the incident, some devices have been shown to activate and begin recording with rises in radio or television noise.

So how we do protect ourselves when using these popular, yet potentially problematic, devices? Much of the advice for voice-activated assistants is the same for standard Internet protection. Echo and Google Home are connected to a user’s Amazon and Google accounts, respectively, so make sure to tighten the built-in security settings. When you’re not using the device, place it in mute mode, so it doesn’t capture and store anything unintended. If you own an Echo, you can manage what the device has stored by visiting your Amazon account and either deleting certain recordings or the entire history.

Voice-activated assistants can be handy helpers, but it’s best to use them safely and securely.

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