Malicious Siri Commands Can Be Hidden In Songs

Malicious Siri commands can be hidden in music and innocuous-sounding speech recordings

Malicious Siri commands can be hidden in music and innocuous-sounding speech recordings

A new study claims that Google Assistant, and other voice command-based AI services like Alexa and Siri, may be vulnerable to subsonic commands.

While the undetected voice commands demonstrated by the researchers are harmless, it is easy how attackers can exploit the technique.

By demonstrating the feasibility of subliminal commands hidden in music and other audio recordings, the researchers hope to create awareness around the potential dangers this entails, and encourage the industry to better secure speech recognition.

This is something that has only been done in lab conditions but speaking about the findings, which follow on from a study conducted in 2016 by the team, Nicholas Carlini, one of the paper's authors said: "My assumption is that the malicious people already employ people to do what I do".

The microphones and software that runs assistants such as Alexa and Google Now can pick up frequencies above 20Khz, which is the limit of the audible range for human ears.

While the commands may go unheard by humans, the low-frequency audio commands can be picked up, recovered and then interpreted by speech recognition systems.

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Apple has additional features to prevent the HomePod speaker from unlocking doors.

Digital assistant security problems are not new. One method called DolphinAttack even muted the target phone before issuing inaudible commands, so the owner wouldn't hear the device's responses.

That warning was borne out in April, when researchers at the University of IL at Urbana-Champaign demonstrated ultrasound attacks from 71/2 metres away. While DolphinAttacks require the transmitter to be placed in close proximity to the smart device receiving the hidden message, last month researchers were able to send these subliminal message via ultrasound from 25 feet away. While the commands couldn't penetrate walls, they could control smart devices through open windows from outside a building. In it, Carlini and Wagner claim that they were able to fool Mozilla's open-source DeepSpeech voice-to-text engine by hiding a secret, inaudible command within audio of a completely different phrase. The group provided samples of songs where voice commands have been embedded to make digital assistants do specific things, including visiting websites, turning on Global Positioning System, and making phone calls.

The Berkeley group also embedded the command in music files, including a four-second clip from Verdi's Requiem.

Tavish Vaidya, a researcher at Georgetown, said: "Companies have to ensure user-friendliness of their devices, because that's their major selling point".

Mr Carlini said he was confident that in time he and his colleagues could mount successful adversarial attacks against any smart device system on the market.

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