India Markets open in 5 hrs 16 mins

How an eloborate hack can turned an Amazon Echo into a spy

Vishal Kawadkar

People are skeptic about using smart speakers as they worry that hackers could breach their privacy. But, this hasn't been the practical reality -- at least not for the Amazon Echo smart speakers. Researchers from China Tencent have come about as close as you can get it right now.

However, they have disclosed a hacking attack on Amazon's Echo speaker that combines both a modified speaker and a string of Alexa web interface vulnerabilities to discreetly eavesdrop on regular models. Sounds scary right? It sounds nefarious, but it's something not all intruders can pull off.

The team of researchers built a rogue Echo device by eliminating the flash memory chip, modifying the firmware to get root access, and tucking it back on the circuit board. After the circuit was tweaked, the team put the speaker on the same Wi-Fi network as untouched Echos. The researchers used Amazon's whole-home communication protocol plus the Alexa interface flaws allowing them to gain full access to victims' speakers. They also succeeded in silently recording and playing any sound they like.

Amazon has already fixed the associated internet vulnerabilities. Also, an eavesdropper should be capable enough to disassemble the Echo, identify a network with other Echos and chain multiple exploits.

This could be a threat in hotels and other places where the hacker could expect smart speakers and breach someone's privacy without attracting a lot of attention. But what's more disturbing is that there's a possibility of hackers snooping around in the first place.

Previously, the company released a new category of Alexa skills specifically for children under 13 years of age in India. These skills bring to life popular characters and experiences from brands such as Amar Chitra Katha, Tinkle, ChuChu TV, PAC-MAN, Hungama, Appu Series, Videogyan, HooplaKidz, Playablo, Moshi Twilight, and Bob the Train. These skills can be accessed on all Amazon Echo devices as well as the free Alexa app for smartphones.

The Alexa India Skills Store currently has over 15,000 skills which serve use cases such as music, news, food, games, smart home and more. With this new collection of over 350 Alexa skills, kids can challenge themselves with brain teasers and quizzes, listen to nursery rhymes and stories and have fun learning about various topics from wildlife to English, using simple voice commands with Alexa. Parents and families can easily discover kid skills via the Alexa app, or just by asking "Alexa, what kid skills do you have?". The ability to use kid skills is controlled by the main account holder and needs to be enabled via the Alexa app.

Also Read:

Amazon adds Alexa announcements support to Beam, Sonos One and other devices

Amazon Alexa skills now available to customers on iOS devices

Amazon Freedom Sale: Buy Amazon Echo and Echo Dot at discounted prices