Alexa is useful, fun, and it can be one of the smartest devices that humans need as a part of life. Amazon’s Alexa is smarter than we assume and easier than we think. People like you always want to make things smarter than before. Smart gadgets, voice assistants are few of them. Alexa could be the tough competitor to Assistant, and Siri. But what If we can control it remotely?
Can you use Alexa to listen remotely? Yes, Alexa lives in the cloud. The echo is the medium between you and the cloud. You can control any Alexa supported devices remotely when you are away from home. We have apps and hubs to control smart devices remotely. If you connect your mobile with Alexa, your phone would also become an ‘Alexa’ integrated device and you can start commanding through it.
But the real question comes when you ask ‘Can I control everything remotely?’. The answer would be NO. For some tasks, you can control Alexa remotely.
As we know already, where there is automation there could be attacks. For better security, we had to follow some precautions. Voice assistants can wake up smart devices and with no reason, you will lose faith in it. Sometimes it’s hard to discover which security path will be the best choice.
Turning an Echo Into a Spy
In the last couple of years, there have been some security issues with the Internet-connected smart devices in the home that can be activated using voice commands. Amazon records voice commands and stores them in the cloud and completes the task.
The problem with this is the recording devices that store the commands that can be sent. They record voice commands, what we speak at home, and what we talk on the phone. The latest Drop-in feature also allows any random person (with permission) to listen to the person’s Alexa interaction.
Amazon Echo or any other smart speakers have built-in microphones. You have to be open to know the security breaches on these devices. Some researchers wanted to test the security level of these devices and they tested the Echo using some commands.
Echo’s mic activates when the wake word is used over the Internet and the researchers looked to see if they could find any vulnerabilities. They didn’t hack but they got what they wanted. Using those features that are given to developers, researchers rushed successfully.
After a few challenges, they overcame it. Researchers used the most common attack that was used by the hackers. They designed an app that acts as a calculator but could do a lot behind the lines. They managed to keep the microphone on even after the command prompt was finished.
The famous blog Phys.org has an article on how Alexa can read your alarms and find a cheating spouse, check it out from here.
How do I use Alexa remotely?
Your Alexa device like Amazon Echo can hear you when you are home but when you are away from home or if you are in another room, then it might be a headache. Obstacles like walls and any physical devices bounce back the voice signals and Alexa couldn’t recognize your voice.
But what if you want to control the Alexa remotely? You can control Alexa remotely using either remote control or a smartphone app.
Using Mobile app (Alexa and Reverb)
Reverb for Amazon Alexa and Amazon Alexa are the two apps that can be used to control Alexa remotely. You can make clear commands to your Alexa sitting from where you are.
It’s not like you are speaking directly with the device (Echo), but yes these apps get your voice commands and send it to the device. This feature would be useful when you are away from home and want to turn off lights or change the room temperature using Thermostat.
Download and Install the ‘Reverb for Amazon Alexa’ from Play Store and once you open the app you can see a sign-in promot. Once you finish the sign in proces, you are ready to use Alexa. You can see a Blue mic on the screen. Give the command while holding it and release to stop. You can also access Reverb from the web.
Reverb for Amazon Alexa app lets you access Alexa from anywhere. Via Alexa, Reverb answers questions, tracks weather reports, turning on alarms, audiobooks and more. Alexa is on its way to add more features like adding animal sounds.
The second app that follows the list is ‘Amazon Alexa”. Open the Alexa app on your phone and you can see a blue color microphone icon on the bottom of the screen. Once Alexa is ready you can see a blue wave that shows Alexa is listening to you. You can command anything like you do on Echo devices.
You can’t expect everything to control from the apps. You cannot set an alarm remotely and that needs a separate skill. You can enjoy giving certain commands.
Can Alexa be hacked to listen to conversations?
The Echo device could be secretly recording your conversations and in the worst case they could appear in a random person’s phone. Well, coming to Alexa leaking the conversation, there was an encounter people experienced about this. Danielle, living with the family, uses Amazon Echo and Alexa app to operate the devices in her home.
From turning on the temperature to turning off the lights. One day she received a call from a person and he said ‘Please unplug your Alexa’. And the person was one of her husband’s colleagues.
He said that he had received audio files recorded on the device. Danielle and her husband both were confused about this but they immediately turned off the Alexa. Amazon Alexa Echo recorded conversation in her home and then sent it to contact. She even complained about this issue and Amazon engineers apologize for this security breach.
Amazon engineers investigated this incident and they said this was an extremely rare occurrence, and Amazon is taking steps to avoid these technical issues. This incident could raise privacy issues of voice-assistant devices that we use to communicate and operate the smart devices in our homes. These devices could be smart, but it has some security concerns, and incidents like these could double the concern.
A security officer ‘Mark Barnes‘ claimed that he could hack the Amazon Echo and can stream live microphone audio to control other devices and he turned it into a remotely controlled listening device.
Basically, Alexa is programmed to listen to certain words and it saves those commands. But the researchers programmed the app to translate any word. When the device is on, developers designed it to alert you with the words about the working conditions but the researchers changed these custom words with empty words. As a result, there would be silence even if your device is alerting you.
Does it make Eavesdropping easy?
Alexa voice assistant feature can order a pizza for you or it can play some music. But the feature from Alexa can let you talk with other Alexa users. If you are not aware, they may listen to your recordings or voice without your knowledge.
The latest feature, ‘Drop-in’ makes things easier that enables instant communication between the Echo devices. What goes worse is when you receive the request from the Alexa user for some permissions and if you accept it, you both can have the communication. But if you forgot to turn off the Drop-in feature and another user is still on the device, he can listen to you.
He can also command the device to turn on or turn off. If you have this device on your Bedroom and forgot to turn off the Drop-in feature, your entire conversation can be listened to. Some can easily turn off their mic on the device and can listen to you without your knowledge. You have to give permission to use the drop-in feature, but it doesn’t need permission to activate the device in your bedroom. You may not be aware of this all the time.
Amazon says that the Drop-in feature is set to Turn off the Drop-in feature automatically but it is also known that users can mute the drop-in feature from Alexa to turn on the Do not disturb mode. You have to be conscious and make sure you are aware of the settings and permissions.
It will be the worst feeling when your security cameras and Alexa device start talking with an anonymous voice. This could be one of the creepiest feelings.
Can Alexa Listen for Intruders?
Yes, Amazon recently rolled out the Alexa Guard that enables Echo speakers to listen for intruders or any other suspicious activities to alert the users. Alexa now can listen for strange sounds like breaking glass or fire. When you are away from home, Alexa Guard will be in active mode with the word ‘Alexa, I’m leaving’.