The New York Times reported that researchers in the U.S. and China are now able to demonstrate the ability to send disguised commands that can not be detected by the human ear to voice assistants. In the wrong hands, the technology could be used to unlock doors, wire money or buy stuff online - simply with music playing over the radio.
Of course companies always deny that they are eavesdropping or recording your conversations, but the fact that our devices are constantly on the lookout for trigger words can be disconcerting for some.
Amazon told the Times that it has taken extra steps to make sure that the Echo is secure, while Google said it has specific features to mitigate undetectable audio commands. Apple says that its HomePod speakers prevent some commands like unlocking doors and that iPhones must be unlocked before using Siri's voice commands. By playing this to the speakers, they can hear the silent commands while we can't. Android devices with voice-enabled search would respond by reading from the Whopper's Wikipedia page. Interestingly, Amazon, Apple, and Google are yet to bring a fix for the issue that can impact a large number of smart device users.
The secret commands can instruct a voice assistant to do all sorts of things, ranging from taking pictures or sending text messages, to launching websites and making phone calls. While DolphinAttacks require the transmitter to be placed in close proximity to the smart device receiving the hidden message, last month researchers were able to send these subliminal message via ultrasound from 25 feet away. Currently, the scope of the DolphinAttack is limited but the University of IL has already demonstrated what ultrasound attacks from 25 feet away are capable of. They were able to hide the command, "OK, Google, browse to evil.com" in a recording of the spoken phrase, "Without the data set, the article is useless". This way, they found out the devices can perceive a series of silent commands that we are incapable of detecting.
The Berkeley group also embedded the command in music files, including a four-second clip from Verdi's Requiem.
You can hear the audio files on Carlini's website.
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