Researchers Hack Smart Speakers with Lasers

Hackers can hijack your Google Home or Amazon Echo with freakin' laser beams

But whether or not the NSA is eavesdropping while you yell at Alex Trebek may be just the beginning of our problems, as researchers in Japan and the University of MI have figured out how to hack Google Home, Amazon Alex, and Apple Siri devices "from hundreds of feet away" using laser pointers and flashlights. It turns out that's not the case, thanks to a new hack that uses laser beams to remotely interact with smart speakers.

The research paper "Light Commands: Laser-Based Audio InjectionAttacks on Voice-Controllable Systems" delivers the full technical analysis if you'd like to dive into it, but the short version, explained at, "is that in addition to sound, microphones also react to light aimed directly at them".

Criminals could also use the hack to open vehicle doors, change the settings on a thermostat or make purchases online, according to the research from Japan and the University of MI.

Usually you have to talk to voice assistants to get them to do what you want. Any device with a microphone and running voice-control software could virtually be taken over with a laser beam modulated by a voice signal. Specifically, you can actually give smart devices commands using light.

In addition to the smart speakers, the researchers tested this method on the iPhone XR, Samsung Galaxy S9 and Google Pixel 2 - they had to be much closer to take control of these devices. Users will also see the light reflecting off the speaker, and hear the audio feedback when the speaker activates.

Now playing: Watch this: Here's what Amazon revealed about Alexa privacy to a. It requires specialised equipment, like a laser pointer, laser driver, sound amplifier, a telephoto lens, and more. That's not just because the companies hosting your data might do something untoward - it may be possible to exploit these devices to steal data or access connected smart home platforms.

Smart speakers have always been linked to privacy issues and hacking concerns, but researchers discovered an unexpected vulnerability - lasers.

While Google Home is quickly expanding its library of commands, the reality is that Alexa remains the most robust digital assistant when it comes to smart speakers.

Gekin said he contacted Google, Apple, Amazon and other companies to address the security issue. The method only worked on the mobile devices from a maximum distance of 16 to 65 feet.

Researchers claim that the microphones need to be completely redesigned to remedy the problem, and covering the microphone in do-it-yourself ways will not protect users from malicious command injections. "We note that despite its low 5 mW power and windy conditions (which caused some beam wobbling due to laser movement), the laser beam successfully injected the voice command while penetrating a closed double-pane glass window", the paper says. Apple declined to comment.

Apple didn't offer comment, while Amazon, Ford and Tesla didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

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