A recent column addressed what voice assistants, like Alexa and Google Home, can do for you. And as promised, here’s the research on how to keep Alexa secure if you use one in the home.
What consumers have learned in recent years is that everything — even devices or institutions we believe to be secure — can be hacked. The apps, shopping and banking online gives malicious scammers opportunities for our personal information to be collected, shared and stolen without our knowledge.
Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, a nonprofit, public interest research group, reminds us to think about what we are asking the voice assistants to do and then to delete those instructions as often as possible.
Dixon adds, “I really don’t think these devices are listening and sending that data off to third parties all the time, but from reviewing my own recordings, there was lot more than I anticipated in there.”
Here are a few tips to keep Alexa more secure.
Strengthen your Amazon password. Anyone with access to your Amazon account can listen to, share or delete your Alexa voice-recording history. Your user name and login information might also be vulnerable to hackers who obtain your Amazon password.
The commands you give Alexa — arming your security system, requesting directions and commute times, or calling friends — can provide malicious actors with valuable information about your daily routine. So, strengthen your login.
Change the default name and password for your wireless network — don’t include identifying information in either — and enable the Wi-Fi Protected Access II (WPA2) protocol on your router. If possible, create one Wi-Fi network for your smart-home devices and another for devices you use to bank, shop or browse, and set up a firewall to restrict what — and who — can connect.
Amazon has repeatedly denied that Alexa-enabled devices are recording at all times, but the devices are always listening for the wake word (“Alexa” is one of several options) and will record and store what is said once Alexa is activated.
Mute that Mic – Alexa has incredible ears. Take time to configure individual user profiles as much as possible and turn them off when you don’t need them via the mute button.
Enable Notification Sounds — Some voice-activated assistants sound an audible notification once they recognize the wake word and again when they detect the end of the command or question – the iOS voice assistant Siri is a choice example. The benefit of this notification sound is immediate feedback in case the assistant gets triggered by accident.
Place the device away from a window, out of sight. Standing on the street and shouting Alexa commands illustrates an important point that Alexa’s pin-sharp hearing can be open to abuse.
Be mindful and do your own due diligence in keeping the device secure.
Carol Marak is an aging advocate and editor at Seniorcare.com. She holds a Certificate in Fundamentals of Gerontology from UC Davis, School of Gerontology.