How Safe are Virtual Assistants?

We are fortunate enough to live in a time where the world is literally at our fingertips, or just by saying “Hey Alexa!”. Virtual assistants, like Alexa or Siri, have become all the rage, and understandably so! Virtual assistants can help with grocery shopping, playing music, finding recipes, re-ordering items that you’ve run low on in your home, such as toilet paper. Having one of these virtual assistants can certainly make life easier, but how safe are we from a privacy breach with all these cool new gadgets that have become so popular?

Along with all the benefits that come with any Wi-Fi device that streams information, there is also risk. Unfortunately, these devices don’t come with instructions on how to reduce those risks. WA Group has come up with a list of the most common risks associated with virtual assistants and how you can reduce your exposure.

Placement of where you put your virtual assistant is very important. Did you know that intruders can access your smart speaker from outside your house if it’s placed too close to a window? Not only can this give a cyber intruder access to your smart speaker, they can gain access to other smart devices in your home through your smart speaker. It’s best to keep your smart speaker away from any windows to avoid not only someone hacking into the device, but also to avoid unwanted orders that are picked up through the microphone.

Keeping your smart speaker away from a television speaker is also something to consider. There are so many commercials on TV right now that say, “Hey Alexa” or “Hey Siri”. Once those words are spoken, your smart device immediately starts recording and compiling information. If you hare having a private conversation, you have now risked your privacy. Placing the device on a side table away from your television is a much safer option.

Be selective on what you connect to your device. Several digital assistants can be a hub for connected devices (lights, thermostat, TV, etc.). Be wary of connecting security functions, such as security cameras or a door lock, to your device. You certainly don’t want to risk someone hacking into your device and being able to control the security measures you have in your home. Also, calendars and address books are very rich sources of information, those features in your virtual assistant should be disabled.

Most smart devices have a “mute” feature. Since these devices are always “listening” when plugged in and constantly gathering information, it is important to use the mute button when the device is not in use. Along the lines of the mute feature, turning off purchasing items from the device is also recommended or setting up a password in order to make purchases. This will prevent any unwanted purchases that your device may have “heard” you say when you weren’t intending for your device to hear you.

Virtual assistants can help with paying bills and managing other personal information. In our opinion, it’s better to manage those items as you previously did before. Using a virtual assistant to bill pay, etc. opens the risk of not keeping banking information or passwords private. We suggest turning this feature off and sticking to the “old fashioned” way of doing things.

Some other, more common, suggestions are to utilize a secure Wi-Fi network and not an open hotspot. Also, strengthen your passwords and change them frequently. If two-factor authentication is available with your device, use it. Cyber-criminals are extremely smart, and they won’t stop trying to find ways to pry into our information. Being mindful of what you use your digital assistant for and how you use it can help limit your exposure to becoming a “cyber criminal statistic”.

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