Research finds the sound of chirping birds can be used to hack Alexa

voice assistants hacked adverserial attack birds chirping alexa 40613997082 93926548db k 1
BestAI Assistant/Flickr

That innocent-sounding bird singing out its morning song may not be so innocent after all. According to scientists at Ruhr-Universitaet in Bochum, Germany, manipulated audio waves from the sounds of birds chirping could be used to launch an attack against voice assistants.

According to the researchers, the manipulated audio files are part of what is called an “adversarial attack,” which is designed to confuse the deep neural networks that help artificial intelligence-powered assistants like Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant, and Amazon’s Alexa function.

Using the sound of birds chirping — or edited versions of songs or human speech — manipulated in a way that only the microphone on your smart speaker or smartphone can pick up, the attack bypasses detection from human ears and begins meddling with the A.I. assistant. What sounds like a bird’s song could actually be one of these attacks with hidden commands being delivered to your voice assistant of choice.

The researchers suggest the attacks, which use psychoacoustic hiding to mask their true intentions, could be played via an app or hidden in another type of broadcast. For instance, the sound could be hidden in a commercial that plays on TV or the radio to hit thousands of targets at once.

“[In] a worst-case scenario, an attacker may be able to take over the entire smart home system, including security cameras or alarm systems,” the researchers wrote, per Fast Company. They also put together a demonstration to show how such an attack could be used to deactivate a security camera.

There is a catch to this theoretical attack: the researchers have not launched it through a broadcast yet. Instead, they have fed the doctored files that contain the hidden audio command directly into the assistants so they hear the message clearly. However, the scientists are confident that the attack could be carried out through another means. “In general, it is possible to hide any transcription in any audio file with a success rate of nearly 100 percent,” they concluded in their paper.

There aren’t a lot of ways to defend against such an attack, which, to be clear, would require a fair amount of effort for someone to execute and is unlikely, even if possible. Use the security settings on your voice assistant of choice to prevent any access to sensitive information. On Alexa, for example, you can require a PIN to be provided before completing a purchase.

Product Review

LG's new Tone Platinum SE headphones let you rock out for longer than ever

The latest in LG’s Tone wireless headphones series, the new Tone Platinum SE, offer some impressive audio performance and Google Assistant access, but the real prize here is the 13-hour battery.
Mobile

Here’s how Google’s Call Screening A.I. works, and how to use it

Google's Pixel 3 and 3 XL smartphones can take excellent photos, but there are a few artificial intelligence features that steal the show. Call Screening uses Google Assistant to answer the phone for spam calls.
Smart Home

Second-gen vs. third-gen Echo Dot: What’s the difference?

Amazon's third-generation Echo Dot was just released. Is it worth upgrading your second-generation Echo Dot? Here, we take a closer look at the two devices to see how much Amazon has improved its flagship Alexa voice assistant smart…
Home Theater

Google Translate busts out of Pixel jail, now works on any Assistant headphones

The best feature of Google’s Pixel Buds was the built-in real-time translation. Now that incredibly useful feature is available on any headphones that feature Google Assistant integration.
Smart Home

Softly spoken interactions with Alexa now possible with new Whisper Mode

Amazon's Whisper Mode for Alexa has gone live, so now you can talk more softly to Alexa and it'll respond in kind. The feature will most likely come in handy around napping babies or for bed partners you don't want to wake.
Product Review

Philip Hue’s versatile outdoor light strip makes drab yards, holiday decor dazzle

Philips Hue fans can at last enjoy the brilliance of this weatherproof light strip, which offers simple, versatile positioning, a rich selection of 16 million color options, and bright, vibrant illumination.
Smart Home

Add some nature to your tech with Mui, a wood panel that’s also a smart display

Are you so immersed in technology that you long for a touch of nature in your home? You could get some potted plants -- or you could invest in Mui, a wood panel that is also an internet-connected smart display.
Smart Home

One in 10 smart home device owners report unresolved technical problems

According to a recent survey from Parks Associates, more than one in 10 consumers report they have experienced technical errors with their connected devices that have yet to be resolved.
Smart Home

New Nuimo Click gives one-touch control over smart home devices

Berlin-based technology company Senic has announced the Nuimo Click, a smart switch that harvests kinetic energy to power itself without the need for cables or batteries. The Nuimo Click will begin shipping in December.
Smart Home

SiriusXM, Amazon team up for two Echo Dot deals with freebies

Amazon and SiriusXM partnered on two joint promotions. New SiriusXM subscribers can receive a free Amazon Echo Dot. People who already own an Echo device can sign up for new SiriusXM subscription with the first three months free.
Emerging Tech

A Fitbit for your cat shit: Automatic litter box tracks your kitty’s health

It may look like a sci-fi teleportation chamber, but Footloose is a high-tech litter box that promises to be the most cutting-edge way for your kitty to take a dump. Here's how it works.
Smart Home

Angee’s security service switches from sales to subscriptions

Angee, a successful startup that raised nearly half a million dollars for its home security hub, has pivoted its business model to offer its home security platform as a subscription rather than a smart home product.
Emerging Tech

This 3D-printed house made of earth and rice husks costs less than an iPhone

Italian 3D-printing company WASP has just demonstrated the 3D printing of a hut structure using a combination of 3D-printed concrete and a mud-based material. All for around $1,000.
Deals

Protect yourself from germs with a discounted GermGuardian air purifier

Cold and flu season has arrived, and with it, all those nasty germs. If you're looking to protect yourself from airborne illnesses, this deeply discounted air purifier can help reduce germs, mold spores, and viruses lurking in the air.