Malicious Siri Commands Can Be Hidden In Songs

The private path

However, this latest one is different because it could victimize even the most careful users, as the subliminal voice commands are undetectable to the human ear.

The New York Times reported that researchers in the United States 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.

Amazon told the NYT is takes steps to keep Alexa secure, while Google says Assistant has features that can mitigate commands that aren't discernible to humans.

Many people already consider voice assistants to be too invasive to let them listen in on conversations in their homes - but that's not the only thing they should worry about.

Apple said it's HomePod smart speaker is created to prevent commands from doing things like unlocking doors, and it noted that iPhones and iPads must be unlocked before Siri will act on commands. For its part, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has discouraged the practice, calling it "counter to the public interest".

Researchers in China a year ago demonstrated that ultrasonic transmissions could trigger popular voice assistants such as Siri or Alexa, in a method known as 'DolphinAttack'. In the latest development of the research, some of the UC Berkeley students determined a way to hide commands within music or spoken text recordings. One method called DolphinAttack even muted the target phone before issuing inaudible commands, so the owner wouldn't hear the device's responses. While Dolphin Attack has its limitations — the transmitter must be close to the receiving device — experts warned that more powerful ultrasonic systems were possible.

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While the undetected voice commands demonstrated by the researchers are harmless, it is easy how attackers can exploit the technique.

It is obvious that there is a clear advantage of having devices that are always listening for voice commands because it means you can access it from a distances and not fiddle with buttons.

The Berkeley group also embedded the command in music files, including a four-second clip from Verdi's "Requiem".

It's been known that you can use obvious voice commands in non-conventional ways to cause actions on virtual assistants - a South Park episode past year messed with Alexa quite a bit - but using hidden instructions is something else entirely.

"Companies have to ensure user-friendliness of their devices, because that's their major selling point", said Tavish Vaidya, a researcher at Georgetown. This isn't the first time we've seen smart devices go haywire due to ambient factors.

Carlini added: "We want to demonstrate that it's possible and then hope that other people will say, 'OK this is possible, now let's try and fix it'".

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