Happy New Year and welcome to 2018. Did you get any gadgets for Christmas? Some of our customers got Echo Dots and other voice-activated gizmos. They are great fun but do we know enough about them? We delve into the world of Virtual Assistants and smart speakers.
What are Virtual Assistants?
Virtual Assistants in the narrowest sense are chatbots – artificial intelligence which answer basic questions on websites. However in recent years, most main brand smart phones and devices all come with their own Virtual Assistant: Siri (Apple), Cortana (Microsoft), Google Assistant and perhaps the most famous Amazon Alexa.
To activate the Virtual Assistant, a “wake” word most be used such as “Alexa” or “Ok Google” and then you can ask the Virtual Assistant to tell you the weather, play music, buy items on Amazon or remind you of something at a later date.
Where Virtual Assistants can be found
In 2017, the capabilities and usage of Virtual Assistants has rapidly expanded. You can now find Virtual Assistants integrated across a range of devices which include: Smart speakers (Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple Homepod), instant messaging (for example Facebook M), on mobiles (ie Siri), on computers (Cortana on Microsoft Windows), mobile apps, smartwatches.
Safety concerns and issues
For those of you ever wary of new technology we would like to highlight the main safety concerns and what you can do about them.
It might be great that your Echo speaker is always listening out for commands but could that be easily turned into a surveillance tool?
According to this Wired article, devices sold before 2017 could be hacked if someone had physical access to the device in order to install malware on it. For most people this won’t be a concern but you may well leave one in your hotel room or office which could leave it vulnerable.
Moreover in November 2017, The Hacker News reported a series of Bluetooth flaws which affected Google Home and Amazon Echo. BlueBorne (the attack) exploited eight Bluetooth implementation vulnerabilities resulting in attackers running malicious code, stealing data and taking complete control of the devices. Patches have since been released to stop these vulnerabilities.
North London IT Support advice
As ever, our advice is to proceed with caution and take time to protect your privacy and stay safe online. There are so many devices out there, we’ve chosen to provide advice for an Amazon Echo:
- Use Alexa voice remote – rather than waiting for an advert to set Alexa off, press the mute button on top of the Echo device. Use the voice remote instead and give your command when prompted
- Prevent unwanted purchases – as devices are making it easier for online shopping, we are all wary of “accidental” purchases. Use a PIN to control voice purchases (change regularly) or you can deactivate the voice purchases.
- Watch where you place Alexa – keep her away from windows and doors to minimise the risk of passers-by or neighbours from activating her!
For more advice on how to keep your devices safe, give us a call on 0203 318 3011.