Hackers find exploitable vulnerabilities in Amazon Echo, turn one into a listening device

At Defcon, Tencent's Wu HuiYu and Qian Wenxiang presented Breaking Smart Speakers: We are Listening to You, detailing their work in successfully exploiting an Amazon Alexa speaker, albeit in a very difficult-to-achieve fashion. Read the rest

Voice assistants suck (empirically)

New research from legendary usability researchers The Nielsen (previously) Norman (previously) Group finds that voice assistants are basically a hot mess that people only use because they are marginally better than nothing. Read the rest

Amazon: 'Unlikely' string of events led to Echo recording a family's private chat & sending to some random guy

Amazon has now publicly responded to today's bombshell news that an Alexa/Echo personal digital assistive device recorded and then leaked a Portland family's private conversation to a third party acquaintance in Seattle. An "unlikely" string of events led to the freak occurrence, says Amazon. OK. Sure. Read the rest

Alexa listened to a couple's conversation and sent it to the husband's employee without permission

A couple in Portland is accusing Alexa of doing exactly what many people have feared she might do. They say she listened in on a conversation and sent it to a random contact of theirs – one of her husband's employees.

The woman, whose name is Danielle but whose last name hasn't been disclosed, says that two weeks ago she got a call from her husband's employee, who said, "Unplug your Alexa devices right now. You're being hacked."

According to KIRO-7 in Seattle:

"We unplugged all of them and he proceeded to tell us that he had received audio files of recordings from inside our house," she said. "At first, my husband was, like, 'no you didn't!' And the (recipient of the message) said 'You sat there talking about hardwood floors.' And we said, 'oh gosh, you really did hear us.'"

Danielle listened to the conversation when it was sent back to her, and she couldn't believe someone 176 miles away heard it too.

"I felt invaded," she said. "A total privacy invasion. Immediately I said, 'I'm never plugging that device in again, because I can't trust it.'"

Danielle says an Amazon engineer investigated.

"They said 'our engineers went through your logs, and they saw exactly what you told us, they saw exactly what you said happened, and we're sorry.' He apologized like 15 times in a matter of 30 minutes and he said we really appreciate you bringing this to our attention, this is something we need to fix!"

When KIRO-7 questioned Amazon, they responded with this: “Amazon takes privacy very seriously. Read the rest

Security researchers can turn Alexa into a transcribing, always-on listening device

Checkmarx researchers including Erez Yalon have created a "rogue Alexa skill" that bypasses Amazon's security checks: it lurks silently and unkillably in the background of your Alexa, listening to all speech in range of it and transcribing it, then exfiltrating the text and audio of your speech to the attacker. Read the rest

Alexa Ruins Families, cartoonified

Cartoonist Lauren eLL secretly recorded a funny family video, then turned it into a charming cartoon about how Alexa Ruins Families. Read the rest

Make your own Alexa-controlled toilet

Inspired by the $6,000 Alexa-controlled toilet at CES, Jonathan Gleich hacked together his own one-tenth the cost. The base of this smart throne is the Brondell Swash 1400 Luxury Bidet Toilet Seat, available for $650 from Amazon. The other components are a $46 auto flusher, $23 infrared link, and $17 Adafruit Feather HUZZAH microcontroller.

Gleich posted directions to make your own over at Instructables: "Alexa Controlled Toilet"

(via Make:) Read the rest

EFF tells the Copyright Office: we don't know how to make voice assistants better, but here's how not to make them worse

Every three years, the US Copyright Office asks for proposals for exemptions to Section 1201 of the DMCA, which bans breaking DRM; in 2015, the Electronic Frontier Foundation won a broad "jailbreaking" exemption to modify the firmware of phones and tablets; this year, we're asking for that permission to be extended to smart speakers like Alexa/Echo, Google Home, Apple HomePods, and the smaller players in the market. Read the rest

Adversarial examples: attack can imperceptibly alter any sound (or silence), embedding speech that only voice-assistants will hear

Adversarial examples have torn into the robustness of machine-vision systems: it turns out that changing even a single well-placed pixel can confound otherwise reliable classifiers, and with the right tricks they can be made to reliably misclassify one thing as another or fail to notice an object altogether. But even as vision systems were falling to adversarial examples, audio systems remained stubbornly hard to fool, until now. Read the rest

Amazon Alexa turned me into a prepper

My home is lightly blanketed with Amazon Echo Dot listening stations. I tried to use Alexa, the digital assistant to re-order my favorite black tea. Now I am ready for the zombie apocalypse. Read the rest

Man asks Alexa if he is being detained

This appears to be surveilling AI chatboxes set up to debate the fine points of constitutional law. It's presumably based on a transcript of an interaction between a sovereign citizen and a cop, but I'm not sure which one as all such interactions are nearly identical (sovcit patter is extremely rigid, and the cops adopt the firm-but-polite bemusement reserved for angry white people).

In other surveilling AI chatbox news, Google admitted yesterday that their newest surveilling AI chatboxes, including those sent to journalists to review, have a "bug" whereby they record audio 24/7. Read the rest

Another Echo Dot, another owl

This owl shaped Echo Dot holder lives in my bathroom.

I'm addicted to Echo Dot. I keep one in my office, one in the kitchen, and now one in my bathroom. I treat the Dots like radios and listen to the news briefing and podcasts.

This is my kitchen owl.

Zehui Owl Shape Smart Home Guard Owl Statue Crafted Guard Station for Echo Dot via Amazon Read the rest

I keep my Amazon Echo Dot in an owl

I liked this owl and wanted it on my kitchen counter, so I purchased an Echo dot. Read the rest

The next iteration of Alexa is designed to watch you while you get dressed

The Echo Look is the next version of the Alexa appliance: it has an camera hooked up to a computer vision system, along with its always-on mic, and the first application for it is to watch you as you dress and give you fashion advice (that is, recommend clothes you can order from Amazon). Read the rest

In video, Alexa goes strangely quiet when asked if it's connected to the CIA

An amusing, slightly unsettling video. Just a glitch, right? Read the rest

TV news report about unwanted Alexa orders triggers unwanted Alexa orders

Television anchors on San Diego's CW6 were discussing how a young girl "accidentally" ordered a dollhouse and four pounds of cookies by talking to Amazon's Alexa when one of the anchors said "I love the little girl, saying ‘Alexa ordered me a dollhouse." Oops. From CW6 San Diego:

As soon as (anchor Jim) Patton said that, viewers all over San Diego started complaining their echo devices had tried to order doll houses...

Amazon says shopping settings can be managed via its Alexa app, including turning off voice purchasing and creating a confirmation code before any order.

The company also says any “accidental” physical orders can be returned for free.

Read the rest

First impressions of Amazon's Echo Dot

I didn't think an IoT voice assistant was for me, but at $50 I couldn't resist the Amazon Echo Dot. I'm finding Alexa to be handy for lots of little things.

Amazon's hockey puck like Echo Dot gives you all the utility of their personal assistant Alexa at pretty low price. I felt it wouldn't be too much of a disaster if the thing never got used. Thus far it is proving to be pretty handy.

Echo Dot pairs with bluetooth speakers pretty well, and I enjoy being able to voice control my radio. Switching between news, music and podcasts is easy. I've found that this alone makes Echo Dot useful to me. Being able to occasionally stop the sound and ask Alexa for time time, weather in San Francisco or other simple, frequent searches one may perform is strangely satisfying, and temporarily provides an 'I live in the future' feeling.

Next up will be syncing it with my Fitbit, tho I'm not sure what that is really going to do for me.

Echo Dot (2nd Generation) - Black via Amazon Read the rest