The dangers of smart speakers and essential safety tips
From coast to coast, people have been embracing smart speakers and other voice-activated devices in a big way. Grandparents are installing tiny screens that let them say hi to the grandchildren from thousands of miles away. Busy workers are asking their smart speakers about the weather, so they can dress appropriately. Curious children are using their voices to research homework topics and learn more about the world.
These smart devices may be all the rage, but they are not always secure. Investigations have shown that smart speakers and voice-activated devices can be hacked, and some criminals have already taken advantage of weak security and other flaws to take control.
The Inherent Insecurity of Always-On Devices
At a fundamental level, the devices that power connected homes are inherently insecure. Ironically, the factors that drive that underlying insecurity are also the things that make these devices so popular and useful.
In order to be useful to their owners, smart speakers and other connected devices are always listening. Whether the device is powered by Amazon Alexa, Google Home or another platform, it must listen constantly for its wakeup call.
Tech companies have already revealed that human employees sometimes monitor connected devices, and that revelation has created real privacy concerns. But beyond the inherent creepiness, the always-on nature of these devices can also create real security risks.
The Home Hub
The dangers posed by smart devices are not confined to the devices themselves. Since smart speakers and other always-on devices often serve as hubs for a network of connected equipment, they can provide easy entry for hackers and other criminals.
Even if your home network is otherwise secure, a weak spot in the security of a smart speaker could put all your other devices at risk. That is why it is so important to do what you can to increase the security of all the devices that share your home. Here are some tips to make your smart speaker and connected devices less prone to hacking.
Avoid Connecting Security-Critical Devices
One of the best features of connected devices is their versatility. Once your smart speaker or other device is installed, you can use it to control the lights, turn down the thermostat or even greet you when you get home.
You can also connect your door locks, home security system and surveillance cameras to your smart speaker, but that does not mean you should do it. Connecting these security-critical devices could do more harm than good, giving hackers easy access to your home and burglars easy access to your family and your possessions.
Delete Old Commands
Your smart speaker has a long memory, but that is not necessarily a good thing. If your past searches included sensitive or private information, it may be time to reset the device by removing those old commands.
Deleting old commands from your smart speaker or other always-on devices may create some temporary inconvenience – your device will need to relearn its commands. Even so, the temporary inconvenience is a small price to pay for additional security.
Keep Personal Information to Yourself
Your smart speaker is always listening, so watch what you say while it is within earshot. Sharing things like credit card numbers, bank account information and online passwords could put your security at risk.
Just think about what a hacker could do armed with this kind of information. If you need to recite your credit card or bank account information, take a minute and turn off the smart speaker or mute the microphone first.
Turn Off Automatic Purchasing
You may have heard the story about the little girl who ordered cookies and a dollhouse using her family’s Alexa, or the one about the parrot who tricked a connected home device into supplying it with an endless stream of crackers. And while those may be funny stories, they are also cautionary tales for anyone who owns such a device.
If you have kids (or pets who can talk) in the house, turning off the ordering feature can protect you, and your credit card, from future damage. Ordering may take a few extra steps, but at least you will avoid unintended purchases.
The adoption rate for smart speakers and connected home devices has been truly astonishing. When these devices first appeared, they were mainly high-tech toys for early adopters, but a few short years later they have gone mainstream. If you do not yet have one of these devices, chances are you will soon. But if you do not take proactive steps to secure your new devices, you could unwittingly give hackers access to your home. The tips listed above can help you protect yourself, so you can enjoy the convenience of a connected home without the unnecessary risks.