Alexa, where are the knives?

 In ITC's Threat of the Week

There has always been great debate about what exactly the Amazon Echo, together with similar devices and apps such as Siri, Google Assistant and the extraordinarily annoying Samsung Bixby, record and send up into the Big Cloud.

Whilst many geeks out there have done some investigations, suspicions remain that these devices might be a good deal nosier than advertised. Well perhaps we will be enlightened. This week The Washington Post has reported that police in New Hampshire suspect that Alexa may have been witness to a double murder (or homicide as they call it over there) and are asking for Amazon to hand over any recordings for a two day period – the time of the murders and the time of the body hiding (yes, under the front porch in a tarpaulin, no imagination these homiciderers).

Of course the law has tried this before only to be thwarted by The Constitution under ‘free speech’ provisions several times, as reported in detail by the mighty Naked people at Sophos here. This time, matters appear to be looking more promising. Will Alexa have recordings of the grizzly details, or just the perpetrator saying “Alexa, order some refuse sacks, carpet cleaner, duct tape etc.”? Time will tell.

What an unhappy coincidence it is that this week saw the final shutdown of the voice behind the HAL 9000 Computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Douglas Rain, who died this week at the age of 90. A good innings some may say, until of course they are 89.

It is very easy, having been brainwashed by dystopian films like The Terminator, 2001 and all of the rest of them that it is only a matter of time before the AIs take over, start SkyNet and kill us all for the good of the planet.

If the leadership example being shown currently by the UK Government is anything to go by, this might not be a bad thing, however if you take a moment to see what happens when you try to get AI to design inspirational posters, we are probably safe for some time. Hang on, ‘Before inspiration comes the slaughter’. Fetch my tin foil hat.

There is a slightly serious point to all this. Not only are we all vulnerable to deliberate misuse of these technologies, as the consumer whose Amazon Echo ordered cat food because of the dialogue in a TV advert found, there is always the potential for collateral or unforeseen damage and we should probably be more cautious. After all, who hasn’t butt-dialled the wrong person at the wrong time and paid the price?

Here is an interesting article about disabling the watchfulness of your Apple device.

In the unlikely event that you would like to discuss Alexa as a witness or mobile privacy, please contact us at: [email protected] or 020 7517 3900. You can use the same details to speak to one of our well informed, super helpful professionals about all matters Cyber and Security.

Have a great weekend. We can only hope that England Rugby isn’t robbed by a TMO two weeks running!

Author: Kevin Whelan

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