July 12, 2020

Smart speakers respond to the silent commands of a remote laser | Innovation


In case we didn't have enough to know that Smart speakers listen, analyze and collect everything we say (Even when we are not addressing them), it now turns out that they can also interact with them remotely without our permission. A group of researchers from the Tokyo University of Electrocommunications (Japan) and the University of Michigan (United States) have discovered that they can be controlled with a laser even more than 105 meters away. The risk is clear: if they can interact with the speaker without speaking, touching it and not even being in the same room, they can also access any intelligent system to which the device is connected.

For example, if you have connected your Alexa to a smart plug, you can turn the light on and off simply by saying, "Alexa, turn off the light." But, using a laser at a distance, other people could perform that same action without even getting close. This action seems unsettling, but they could do the same if you had the home security system or the door lock connected to the smart speaker

In fact, the researchers already tested all these operations during their study. They discovered that they could control devices such as Google Assistant, Alexa (from Amazon) or Siri (from Apple) by pointing a laser at the speaker's microphone to perform actions such as turning lights on or off, opening doors and even starting a car, according to collects the Europa Press agency.

This communication is carried out by silent orders, through the light. How is it possible? The researchers discovered that the microphone of the smart speakers responds to the laser light as if it were sound. Specifically, for a small piece called a diaphragm that moves when it receives air vibrations. They found that using the laser they could mimic the movement of sound and make the system act as if it had received a spoken order.

"This opens up a completely new class of vulnerabilities. It's hard to know how many devices it affects, since it's a very basic problem," said Kevin Fu, a professor at the University of Michigan and one of the researchers, The New York Times. To solve this problem, the researchers say they have to redesign the microphones. In their study, they pick up a possibility: it would be enough to put several microphones instead of just one, since each laser affects only one microphone. They also suggest reducing the amount of light the diaphragm receives through opaque materials.

Another of the researchers, Professor Daniel Genkin, has given a series of guidelines to prevent them from attacking our device. Thus, if you have an intelligent speaker it is better to keep it out of sight of people who are outside. In addition, it is not advisable to give the speaker permission and access to those actions that other people do not want to have access to.

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