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The Risks of Smart Assistants & Devices and Tips on How to Use Them Safely

Smart home assistants, both surveillance cameras and connected speakers have been in the spotlight this week because of an incident in the Australia. A married couple has reported that a stranger hacked into their home surveillance system installed in their daughters’ bedroom and harassed one of them, aged eight. We wonder what risks these devices pose and how we can coexist with this technology, also called IoT (Internet of Things) that connects objects with each other in order to provide beneficial solutions for the connected life through the Internet.

Main Risks of Intelligent Assistants

Personal information: It is obvious that the more the device knows about us (this implies having a registered account), the more accurate information it will be able to provide us with to our questions.

Constant listening: Whether it is a camera or a speaker capable of receiving our commands, it is also capable of constantly listening and recording information, and if an intruder gains access to the device, he will also have access to all our stored information.

Voice distinction: Speakers do not yet have the ability to distinguish their owner’s voice from any other voice that invokes the activation command, a fact that intruders are already benefiting from.

Bluetooth connection: This is the standard system for connecting these devices because, thanks to its simplicity, it allows multiple household devices to be connected in seconds, which also entails a very basic security system.

How to Avoid the Risks of Smart Assistants?

Read the instructions for use or, at least, find out what the device can do and how we can control it.

Review the privacy conditions: In most devices, it is not necessary to accept all the conditions that come by default to use them. It is the same as with our mobile applications; giving our email address to send a newsletter, or our location or personal data such as our date of birth, in many cases, is not essential for the operation of the device.

Use a VPN for Smart Home Devices: VPN usage has increased a lot in recent years because it is a good tool to close the security gaps brought by rapidly evolving technology. Young people and adults, especially those living in highly educated countries like Australia, realize how important it is to use a VPN.

Changing the default data: This is the main problem with devices connected to the Internet; manufacturers assign default passwords such as “admin”, “0000” or “1,2,3” to make it easier to set them up for the first time. Changing the default passwords involves a little more attention, but it will prevent scares like the news item above.

Turn off cameras and microphones: Having these devices does not mean that they have to be active 24 hours a day. Turning off microphones when we receive guests and turning off room cameras during the night is a good idea to minimize risks. Most have physical buttons to turn them off, and some of them work with voice commands such as “Hey Siri, stop listening”.

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