AI Voice Assistants Are Coming – But First We Must Secure Them

By on
Read more about author Carsten Rhod Gregersen.

The next generation of voice assistants is coming. Hot on the heels of ChatGPT, generative AI is poised to take over the sector. This tech understands natural language, learns from vast amounts of data, and generates human-like responses. Applying these capabilities to the likes of Siri and Alexa will result in more efficient and complex interactions.

Unlike past voice assistants – which Microsoft’s CEO recently called “dumb as a rock” – tomorrow’s iteration promises more autonomous decision-making. The result will usher in the next era of the smart home. However, before we get there, let’s explore why it’s vital to first secure these advanced connected devices.

The Progression of Voice Assistants

Voice assistants enjoyed a meteoric rise in the early 2010s, with Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri becoming ubiquitous in U.S. households. Alexa alone controls more than 300 million smart devices and counts more than 140,000 compatible products. However, as smartphones became more capable, the devices struggled to justify their existence, especially as they lacked predictive capabilities and could not be easily monetized. With AI, however, voice assistants are set for a comeback. 

Generative AI, powered by advanced machine learning algorithms, promises to bring depth, flexibility, and complexity to these devices. By combining natural language processing (NLP) with GPT-style responses, voice assistants will be able to deliver more personalized and comprehensive experiences. As AI assistants become better at understanding user routines and preferences, they will also start to act autonomously, from starting the coffee pot to watering the lawn, without even being prompted by a voice command. This kind of predictive functionality was always the ultimate goal of voice assistants, and AI is finally making it a reality.

Voice Assistants and the Cybersecurity Problem

But there’s a catch. The increasing intelligence of voice assistants brings with it a host of new security concerns. With these devices knowing us more intimately than ever before, data security and privacy protection are paramount. 

Companies and users alike must be aware of the risks associated with more intelligent voice assistants. History already shows these devices are fallible. Academic researchers discovered a security flaw last year that allowed hackers to take control of Amazon Echo smart speakers and perform unauthorized actions such as unlocking doors, making phone calls, and controlling smart appliances. This exploit used the device’s speaker to issue voice commands. Though the flaw was eventually patched up, it proved that hackers can and will find weaknesses in these devices.

Also, voice assistants and the home networks on which they operate are only as strong as their weakest link. In the smart home, these are often consumer-connected devices. As Internet of Things (IoT) manufacturers aim to keep the costs low, they often use outdated hardware and software, leaving these devices with insufficient security features. Additionally, many consumers leave their devices on default settings, not realizing the potential risks associated with these network-enabled devices that they view as simple appliances.

Once inside your home or office network, hackers can manipulate devices to install malicious software, steal sensitive information and passwords, and even launch devastating ransomware attacks. A real-world example of this danger was demonstrated when a security firm was able to hack into a home network through an unsuspecting IoT device – a smart lightbulb

How We Must Protect Our Homes and Businesses

Fortunately, consumers can take steps to protect themselves from potential cybersecurity threats. One essential measure is to encrypt your home network to ensure that commands travel only between client and device using a peer-to-peer communication platform. Additionally, store your home network data at the edge rather than in the cloud. This ensures that your data remains under your lock and key rather than being exposed to third parties. 

It’s also important to review the data and security permissions of the connected devices in the smart home, allowing them to access only the necessary parts of your network. Therefore, in the case of a successful hack, the threat is quarantined.

As the next generation of voice assistants powered by AI approaches, there is a vital need to first secure these advanced connected devices. While they promise more autonomy and efficiency, they also pose new cybersecurity risks. The above measures will ensure that devices don’t sell user information to third parties and allow users to confidently embrace the benefits of smarter voice assistants in their homes. Securing advanced connected voice assistants is essential to realize their potential benefits while mitigating cybersecurity risks.