Boffins hack Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri using lasers

Boffins hack Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri using lasers

This is detailed in a research paper (via Ars Technica) titled "Light Commands: Laser-Based Audio Injection Attacks on Voice-Controllable Systems" by researchers from the University of Electro-Communications and the University of MI.

By calibrating the lasers to match the frequency of a human voice, the boffins were effectively able to beam commands to a selection of smart speakers as well as an iPhone and a pair of Android devices.

The researchers said: "The implications of injecting unauthorized voice commands vary in severity based on the type of commands that can be executed through voice.We show how an attacker can use light-injected voice commands to unlock the victim's smart lock-protected home doors, or even locate, unlock and start various vehicles".

ANN ARBOR-From a distance of more than 300 feet and through a glass window, a laser beam can trick a voice-controlled virtual assistant like Siri, Alexa or Google Assistant into behaving as if it registered an audio command, researchers from the University of MI and University of Electro-Communications in Tokyo have demonstrated. The light would hit the diaphragm built into the smart speaker's microphone, causing it to vibrate in the same way as if someone had spoken that command.

Explaining why microphones can be controlled with light, the researchers say on their website: "The main discovery behind light commands is that in addition to sound, microphones also react to light aimed directly at them". The finding could enable anyone (with motivation and a few hundred dollars' worth of electronics) to attack a smart speaker from outside your house, making it do anything from playing music to opening a smart garage door to buying you stuff on Amazon. Amazon is sitting on top of this market: Canalys reports Amazon shipped a quarter of these speakers, or an estimated 6.6 million between April and June.


"Microphones convert sound into electrical signals". It has been mentioned that this can be done by injecting laser on to the devices from as far as 360 feet or 110 metres. Most microphones, they said, would have to be redesigned.

How Can Hackers Take Advantage of the Bug? This allowed them to make basic commands and activate the smart speaker.

The team said that there is a tiny fragment inside a device's microphone, called a diaphragm. Takeshi Sugawara, a visiting scholar at the University of MI and the paper's lead author, said one way to do this would be to create an obstacle that would block a straight line of sight to the microphone's diaphragm.

Tracking steps seems to be all the Buds can do at this time, though that could change if Amazon decides to give the feature a wide release.

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