Do You Know What Alexa, Google and Siri Are Up To?

Do You Know What Alexa, Google and Siri Are Up To?

Not everyone has a smart speaker in their home or office, but most of us do have a smart phone. When setting up your device, you were likely asked whether or not you wanted to activate your assistant. Doing so doesn’t take very long … you say a few phrases when prompted so it can get to know your voice and that’s pretty much it … you officially have a virtual assistant. Have you ever wondered how your assistant actually works?

 

Virtual assistants, such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and Google’s Assistant, use artificial intelligence (AI) to parse what is said or typed and then provide useful information back. Want to know something quickly without lifting a finger? Simply say a wakeword phrase such as, “Hey Siri,” or whatever your smart application is called, and ask away. You could say, “Who wrote Gone with the Wind?” or “What is 23.5 times 6?” or “Play I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.” When you talk to a smart phone or speaker, you know that your voice is being recorded and that there will be a result – sometimes it’s an answer, other times the correct action is taken or occasionally there may be an inquiry back to clarify the request. But, just as false starts happen in races, false positive recordings can be triggered by something as simple as someone zipping up their jeans because it sounds to Siri like the person’s muffled voice. If you have ever experienced Siri being accidentally activated during a time when not requested, you know that it can be a bit embarrassing … and a little unnerving.

 

If privacy is a big concern of yours, you might want to throw your smart speaker or device out the window. These instruments are indeed paying attention to us, but does this mean that they can listen and record all of the time? Amazon hopes so. A newly revealed patent application filed by the company is raising privacy concerns over an envisaged upgrade to the company’s smart speaker systems. This change would mean that, by default, the devices end up listening to and recording everything you say in their presence. The idea is similar to Apple’s live photos, where video is recorded before and after a user takes a picture. Since the application is being asked to do something for us, then we are basically acknowledging that our privacy isn’t desired at that point in time.

 

Amazon.com, Inc. employs thousands globally to help improve the Alexa digital assistant through its line of Echo speakers. Rene Ritchie explained in his latest blog (July 28, 2019) titled Why People Are Freaking Out Over Siri Privacy Right Now, that “the team listens to voice recordings captured in homes and offices. The recordings are transcribed, annotated and then fed back into the software as part of an effort to eliminate gaps in Alexa’s understanding of human speech and help it better respond to commands.” Ritchie remarked, “If Amazon does decide to use the tech in its products, it’s unclear whether customers would be able to opt out of the ‘always on’ recording.”

 

Ritchie continued on with detail about Amazon’s patent application. “While the patent application explains devices would record audio in 10 to 30 second increments and automatically delete unneeded clips, privacy experts say it is cause for concern because it demonstrates tech companies’ growing ability to surveil customers at all times and potentially misuse collected information.”

 

Let’s take a glance at another tech giant, Apple, who recently told The Guardian: “A small portion of Siri requests are analyzed to improve Siri and dictation. User requests are not associated with the user’s Apple ID. Siri responses are analyzed in secure facilities and all reviewers are under the obligation to adhere to Apple’s strict confidentiality requirements.” The company added that a very small random subset, less than 1% of daily Siri activations, are used for grading, like whether the request was intentional or a false positive that accidentally triggered Siri, or if the response was helpful. They added that those snippets used for grading are typically only a few seconds long.  But, what if those few seconds just happen to be you discussing a very private medical issue with your doctor or a very sensitive issue with a family member? How can you prevent being part of a company’s grading process? Currently, the only way to have peace of mind that a random stranger won’t listen in on your Apple device is to stop using Siri entirely.

 

Heidi Messer for The New York Times wrote that “consumers should not be so paranoid about privacy. “The right to absolute privacy no longer exists and excessive regulation of tech companies will only stifle innovation and prevent job creation.” Privacy in the digital age may not be completely deceased but it is hanging on by its fingernails. Just remember, when you agree to use these products, you’re often giving up much more than you think.

 

 

 

 

Flying This Summer? How to Prevent Juice Jacking

Flying This Summer? How to Prevent Juice Jacking

Vacations are indeed wonderful. Traveling to a new destination or to a familiar favorite locale is a treasured experience with memories that can last a lifetime. On the other hand, traveling on business might not be as fun, but it is a must for many. Going from point A to point B can be stressful at times. Weather, flight delays, overbooked flights, long layovers or not having enough time between flights causing you to miss your next connection … you name it, it can happen. Next thing you know, your device battery is getting low. So, what do you do? Is it safe to recharge at a public charging station? Not always.

 

Juice jacking is a type of cyber attack and typically involves public USBs. Public charging stations, such as those found in airports, train stations, hotel lobbies, and even your rental car, can make your personal data very vulnerable and open your device up to malware.

 

As reported in Forbes, a growing number of nation-state hackers have been training their sights on travelers. New research from IBM, in the 2019 IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence Index, reveals that the transportation industry has become a priority target for cybercriminals as the second-most attacked industry — up from tenth in 2017. Since January 2018, 566 million records from the travel and transportation industry have been leaked or compromised in publicly reported breaches.”

 

What steps can you take to prevent juice jacking from happening to you?

– Don’t leave home without a fully charged battery.

– Carry a charging cord with you so you can use a wall socket instead of a public USB.

– Purchase an external battery pack.

– Turn off your phone to save your battery when feasible.

– Learn how to optimize your device’s battery settings.

 

 

 

Sextortion: How to Protect Our Youth

Sextortion: How to Protect Our Youth

Unfortunately, our children are at risk from online predators in many different ways. Sextortion is a criminal act and horrible nightmare to victims and their families.  Learning what sextortion is and understanding how it could happen are the first steps in prevention.

 

What is sextortion? The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) explains that sextortion occurs when an adult, through threat or manipulation, coerces a minor into producing a sexually explicit image and send it over the Internet.

 

How would this happen? The perpetrators utilize social media, games, chat and dating apps to capture their victims. The criminals will tell children that they will make them famous or pay them an exorbitant amount of game credits, crypto-currency, cash, or gift cards if they will participate.

 

Why would my child engage in this act? Sextortion is happening when minors feel most comfortable … when they are on their device, using an app, or playing an online game that is part of their daily routine. The adults that do this crime know that your children might not yet be mature enough to consider the consequences of an action and make decisions like an adult would. Any child with Internet access is at risk. The FBI has interviewed victims as young as 8 and reports that the crime affects all children regardless of gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic groups. The victims have been honor-roll students, children of teachers, and student athletes. The only common trait is that they are all online.

 

Why don’t victims ask for help? Once the criminal has your child’s single photo or video, they will threaten them with exposure; essentially, coercing your son or daughter to provide them with additional photos or videos and in even more compromising, explicit situations. The criminal knows that fear drives action. … fear of being in trouble by their guardians, of having their device taken away, of being persecuted for pornography, and of feeling massive embarrassment and shame.

 

What can we do to prevent sextortion? Discuss this topic openly with your children. Let them know that they can tell you anything and you are always there to help them. Communicate that you do not want them to chat with anyone they don’t already know online. Educate them that any photo or video they may take is already public information and not just on their device. Limit their device use. Make sure their social media accounts are kept private. Make them aware that some profiles are not real and that there are adults purposely pretending to be someone else to get them to chat and hurt them. Most importantly, trust your instincts. If something feels not quite right, it probably isn’t.

 

For more information, visit https://fbi.gov.