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Is Your Smartphone Spying On You?

We can talk to computers, and they answer back. We ask them to tell us the weather, order more toilet paper, make a dinner reservation, and look up useless information. And we’re doing this more and more often.

Juniper Research says that there were 2.5 billion digital voice assistants in 2018, and by 2023, that number will grow to 8 billion. Digital assistants like Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Ring doorbells, and DTEN smart TVs have bugs that pose cybersecurity and privacy risks.

As an American, you have a basic right to privacy in your own home, which is protected by the U.S. Constitution. But as technology moves more into home automation and smart devices, you may have to give up some of these freedoms in exchange for the ease they offer.

Concerns about privacy: Does your smart device spy on you?

Spying is a strong word, but the smart devices in your home are definitely listening. This is how the technology was made to work.

With a smart device, you can use your voice to control things in your home like lights, thermostats, and appliances. You can also use it to surf the web. Most of them have a “wake word” like “OK Google,” “Alexa,” “Siri,” etc., that will get them to pay attention and do what you want. It can’t hear your wake word if it isn’t listening for it, which is where things get scary.

Hackers can get into most smart devices in some way, which is a shame.

Google Home and Amazon Alexa

Senior security consultants at SRLabs have shown that both the Amazon Alexa and Google Home smart speakers have some serious flaws. Technicians made and uploaded phishing apps that got past the security checks at Amazon and Google.

An app, like one that tells you your daily horoscope, would make the user think that it had stopped working. It would either keep listening to the user or, imitating the “voice” of the smart device, ask the user for their password to install an update.

Ring Doorbells

So many of Amazon’s Ring Doorbells have been hacked that privacy and consumer groups sent out a warning about them in December 2019. Fight for the Future, a non-profit advocacy group, warns people that Ring devices could let hackers steal wifi passwords. This is based on dozens of past incidents.

DTEN Smart TVs

DTEN is a certified hardware provider for Zoom, a popular service for video conferencing. This hardware is used on smart TVs in business conference rooms all over the world. It has known flaws that hackers could use to listen in on meetings and steal information from digital whiteboards. Last summer, a security team found five bugs in the systems. However, only three of them have been fixed.

How You Can Avoid Getting Hacked by Smart Spies

There are a lot of different features and settings on smart devices. When you set up your device, you should take some time to read the terms and conditions. Also, you can keep smart spies from hacking your computer by taking a few simple steps.

1. Be careful what you link to

Your home or office doesn’t need to have “smart” versions of every appliance, light, and function. If you’re tempted, think about what you’ll get out of it and what risks you might be taking. For example, it seems risky to have a smart lock on your front door.

2. Make your security stronger

You can set up a separate, safe network in your home for smart devices that isn’t the same as the one you use to connect to the internet and surf the web. To prevent remote access, you should also protect all of your smart devices with a strong password and two-factor authentication.

3. Set up automatic updates

Make sure the firmware on your smart devices is up to date. You can do this with each device’s app. You’ll also want to turn on automatic updates so that any problems with the devices can be fixed.

4. Limit Purchasing

If you don’t want to buy things with your smart device, you can turn this feature off in the settings. If not, set up extra security before letting someone buy something, like a PIN code. Also, make sure you get purchase confirmation emails so you’ll know if your security has been broken.

5. Think about what you say

Keep in mind that a smart speaker in your room is always listening. Now that you know this, it’s probably not a good idea to say out loud your credit card number, password, or Social Security number. If you have to, turn off the device or go to a different room.

What to do if someone hacks your smart device

At the start of 2019, hackers went after a number of Google Nest thermostats and took over speakers and cameras in people’s homes. No one knows for sure how many homes were affected, but those who heard a stranger speak to them out of the blue were understandably upset.

If one of your smart devices has been hacked, the first thing you should do is change the passwords for your network and devices. Then, go through the list we gave you above to make your home’s security system stronger and stop this from happening again.

When a data breach happens, a business could be held responsible if they were careless about how they accessed or stored the information. This could lead to a civil lawsuit against a company like Google or Amazon, and we’re likely to see more of these in the years to come.

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