Alexa Delenda Est

If you are foolish enough to have an Amazon Alexa device in your home, I suggest you immediately take the following steps to correct a serious security bug.

  • Turn it off
  • Unplug it from any power/phone/etc interface
  • Take it outside
  • Obtain the largest available hammer (8LB sledge is suitable)
  • Pound the device into its elementary constituent particles

If you hadn’t already been warned off the digital spies, perhaps this will convince you. Because if this report is correct, Amazon is either lying about Alexa, or it has yet another major security bug.

Alexa calls cops on man allegedly beating his girlfriend
A New Mexico man was arrested for allegedly beating his girlfriend and threatening to kill her — after Amazon’s Alexa called police, authorities said.
[…]
During the assault, Barros waved a gun and threatened to kill the woman before he allegedly asked: “Did you call the sheriffs?”

The question was inadvertently picked up by the smart speaker and the voice-powered virtual assistant recognized the phrase as a command — prompting it to call 911

Is it good that the woman was saved? Sure. But how did that happen?

First off, there doesn’t ever seem to have been an Alexa “attention word” spoken. I looked at several reports on this; none mention the trigger word being used. So the system apparently listens to everything… and just happens to interpret a question about the sheriff as a command to dial 911.

Second, according to Amazon, calling 911 is impossible.

Note: Alexa Calling does not support calls to the following types of numbers:

  • Emergency service numbers (for example “911”)

So… Alexa, without prompting, interprets a question as an order to place an impossible call, and does it.

Right.

Let’s consider another possible scenario. One of the thousands of Amazon workers listening to Alexa conversations hears the domestic incident, because the microphone is always active. Well-intentioned employee looks up the owner data, gets the phone number and location, and places a 911 call for her.

Don’t you feel safer knowing someone is always watching over you?

Now imagine some busybody overhears a conversation about guns, decides you’re planning a shooting, and SWATs you.

Or maybe the baby pictures you and you spouse are discussing might be child porn. Another call.

Perhaps you decided to cancel your Amazon Prime, and instead of programming Alexa to call you a “shithead”, they decide to SWAT you for that.

Or you were watching a movie or newscast with a domestic violence scene.

More innocuously, Alexa might start placing long distance calls on its own, running up your phone bill.

The best case is that the Alexa system is so buggy as to be physically dangerous.

The worst case? Consider Alexa’s alleged left-wing bias, and think about it — or those listeners — acting on it. Do you own guns? Vote conservatively? Oppose abortion?

One thought on “Alexa Delenda Est

  1. David Bradford July 13, 2019 / 2:58 pm

    I would expect the same issues could effect google assistant. I keep finding it active on my phone, even after disabling it repeatedly.

    Like

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