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Can Your Virtual Assistant Be Hacked?

FURKAN YILMAZ

Almost everyone notices the benefit of using a virtual assistant. In recent years, they have become increasingly popular and can be used to provide answers to just any question you have.


Can Your Virtual Assistant Be Hacked? Virtual Assistants 101

Almost everyone notices the benefit of using a virtual assistant. In recent years, they have become increasingly popular and can be used to provide answers to just any question you have.

They offer a wide range of benefits. And if you want them to provide an answer to a question, they’ll need to listen to your voice—an approach that has raised lots of questions about privacy. People ask if virtual assistants can be hacked, but there is more to learn.

All virtual assistants are equipped with top-level security features. But this doesn’t mean that hacking is not possible. With millions of smart devices installed in homes, they can attract hackers. And in fact, security experts say attackers can gain access to a virtual assistant by simply deploying certain tools—and it is essential that you secure yourself.

How Can a Virtual Assistant Be Hacked?

A virtual assistant is often controlled by speaking to it. And this helps the owners handle a few tasks because their assistants hear their requests and provide answers when they are asked to do something.

Unfortunately, these channels have also been leveraged by hackers. Instead of speaking directly to the technology, they use ultrasonic waves or lasers to issue voice commands from a distance.

A laser can be used by simply pointing directly at the device’s microphone, and you can issue commands. It will create small movements in the microphone’s diaphragm, which the virtual assistant will interpret as a sound. And according to research, these attacks can be carried out from several distances, up to 110 meters away. For instance, hackers may also leverage ultraviolet lasers, which can not be seen.

However, most hackers find ultrasonic waves more effective. They are usually silent, meaning that you could be around your device yet unaware that it is being accessed using ultrasonic. In addition, they can penetrate obstacles, meaning they can be performed from several distances away, traveling through physical obstacles—even outside your home. Virtual assistants can hardly identify the difference between real voice commands and ultrasonic waves.

A virtual assistant will respond with audio regardless of what you use to issue a command. Unfortunately, this is not much of a hurdle for hackers to get by. Their first command is to lower the volume.

What Can a Hacker Do With a Virtual Assistant?

The havoc that can be executed with a virtual assistant depends on what you connect your device to. If your virtual assistant is connected to your security system, hackers can leverage it to access your home. And this is, in fact, why many smart locks request PINs.

Also, if your assistant is connected to your car, attackers could use it to unlock your car security and even move your car. Hackers will leverage it to make online purchases if it is linked to your payment details.

Some virtual assistants require you to download apps using voice commands. A hacker could leverage this to download malicious apps that can help them spy on your activity or steal sensitive information.

How Can You Secure a Virtual Assistant From Hackers?

Whether you suspect unusual activity on your devices or not, protecting your virtual assistant against hackers is a very important thing to do. The methods are quite easy. But some may make your device less functional.

1. Consider Network Segmentation

Network segmentation plays a key role here, making it easy to track breaches and potential threats on your network. So what is network segmentation? It is a network security strategy that involves segmenting physical networks into different sub-networks to deliver unique security features and controls for clarity and ease of management.

Once you can subdivide your network, you can easily monitor activities in your systems, pinpoint network inefficiencies and bolster your security infrastructure. In addition, compartmentalization allows network administrators to adapt security controls with greater precision, and two ways you can implement segmentation is through physical or virtual segmentation.

Just as the name implies, physical segmentation means using dedicated hardware to create closed-off networks. With it, each network segment would require a separate internet connection, firewall, and physical hardware. This method is also known as perimeter-based segmentation.

Virtual segmentation flips the perimeter and allows the creation of numerous virtual structures for easier supervision, offering virtually similar advantages to the physical approach and distribution to prevent flaws in the system.

Network segmentation helps to enforce security policies and create boundaries between teams to prevent data breaches while also helping to enhance network traffic distribution and boosting overall performance.

2. Avoid Connecting Your Virtual Assistant to All Your Devices

Your virtual assistant is meant to assist you with various things, including controlling the lights, thermostats, and other devices. However, it would help if you connected them to only very important devices. Reconsider your decision to connect to your car and critical security devices and only opt for devices that pose less security threat in an attack.

3. Hide or Turn Off the Microphone

Hackers usually need your device’s microphone to control it with a laser. Hence, you can prevent laser-based attacks by turning off the microphone and keeping it away from windows.

Turning off your microphone isn’t always feasible, but you should consider it, especially when you are away from home. That will make it difficult for hackers to hack your systems when you are not at home.

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