Electronic assistants such as the Amazon Echo could be hacked by criminals
Electronic assistants such as the Amazon Echo could be hacked by criminals to steal personal information, a security expert has warned.
Millions have bought voice-activated speakers which play music, provide weather forecasts, order groceries and answer questions.
The devices are brought to life by vocal commands such as ‘Alexa’ or ‘Hello Google’ but experts warn they pose a major security risk as they are always listening in and monitoring conversations.
Criminals could hack into them to find out when families are away or steal credit card details when someone orders a takeaway over the phone.
Cybersecurity expert Dr Jason Nurse warned: ‘If hackers find a way to compromise these devices in our homes, they could have it recording all of the time and you wouldn’t necessarily know.
‘They could hear you discussing your holiday plans, so they know when you are away and could burgle you.
‘They may hear you buying something on the phone, giving away your credit card details.’
The Oxford University research fellow, who was speaking at the Cheltenham Science Festival, is so concerned that he refuses to have electronic assistants in his house.
However, the gadgets are more popular than ever. The Google Home, a similar device to the Amazon Echo, can pick up commands even in noisy rooms, track online shopping and even switch on lights and adjust the thermostat.But some fear that users are inviting an electronic spy into their home.
The Amazon Echo costs £149.99. It is a hands-free speaker with seven microphones, voice-controlled by a command to the virtual assistant Alexa.
It plays music, provides sports scores and weather forecasts, can adjust lighting and heating, as well as answer questions and give traffic updates.
The more you use it, the more it adapts to your speech patterns, vocabulary and preferences.
Google Home, which went on sale in April and costs £129, works in a similar way. It is activated by the words ‘OK Google’ or ‘hey Google’.
Apple’s version of the gadget, the HomePod, is late to the market after being announced this week. Available from December, it will cost about £270.
Dr Nurse said: ‘If there’s something private you want to say, the first thing you should do is mute the device… or turn it off. You should think twice about what you say in front of these devices.’ Conversations recorded on the Google Home device are automatically encrypted, while Amazon Echo has a ‘microphone off’ button and utterances can be deleted.
Dr Nurse added: ‘A TV, radio or someone else in your home may say the wake word without your knowledge and start it recording while you are discussing something private or sensitive.
‘That may then be sent off without you being aware it is happening.
‘Automation is great. It’s fantastic that you can walk around your home and tell it to do things like you are talking to an individual but the risks are mounting.
‘People should think about the cost-benefit pay-off in terms of privacy and security and how much convenience they add to your life.’
An Amazon spokesman said: ‘Amazon takes customer privacy seriously and we have taken measures to make Echo secure.’
Google declined to comment.