Researchers can now send secret audio instructions undetectable to the human ear to Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant.
Many people have grown accustomed to talking to their smart devices, asking them to read a text, play a song or set an alarm. But someone else might be secretly talking to them, too.
Over the last two years, researchers in China and the United States have begun demonstrating that they can send hidden commands that are undetectable to the human ear to Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant. The researchers have been able to secretly activate the artificial intelligence systems on smartphones and smart speakers, making them dial phone numbers or open websites. In the wrong hands, the technology could be used to unlock doors, wire money or buy stuff online — simply with music playing over the radio.
This month, some Berkeley researchers published a research paper that went further, saying they could embed commands directly into recordings of music or spoken text. So while a human listener hears someone talking or an orchestra playing, Amazon’s Echo speaker might hear an instruction to add something to your shopping list.
These deceptions illustrate how artificial intelligence — even as it is making great strides — can still be tricked and manipulated.
Nicholas Carlini, a fifth-year Ph.D. student in computer security at U.C. Berkeley said he was confident that in time he and his colleagues could mount successful adversarial attacks against any smart device system on the market. “We want to demonstrate that it’s possible,” he said, “and then hope that other people will say, ‘O.K. this is possible, now let’s try and fix it.’”
Smith, C.S. (2018, May 10). Alexa and Siri Can Hear This Hidden Command. You Can’t. The New York Times.