Home Tech Everyday Tech A Laser Pointer Could Hack Your Voice-Controlled Virtual Assistant

A Laser Pointer Could Hack Your Voice-Controlled Virtual Assistant

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 Michigan and University of Electro-Communications in Tokyo have demonstrated.

The researchers discovered in the microphones of these systems a vulnerability that they call “Light Commands.” They also propose hardware and software fixes, and they’re working with Google, Apple, and Amazon to put them in place. Daniel Genkin, an assistant professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Michigan, said:

The team showed that Light Commands could enable an attacker to remotely inject inaudible and invisible commands into smart speakers, tablets, and phones in order to:

  • Unlock a smart lock-protected front door
  • Open a connected garage door
  • Shop on e-commerce websites at the target’s expense
  • Locate, unlock, and start a vehicle that’s connected to a target’s account

Just five milliwatts of laser power — the equivalent of a laser pointer — was enough to obtain full control over many popular Alexa and Google smart home devices, while about 60 milliwatts was sufficient in phones and tablets.

(Image: Screenshot / YouTube)
Just five milliwatts of laser power — the equivalent of a laser pointer — was enough to obtain full control over many popular smart home devices. (Image: Screenshot / YouTube)

To document the vulnerability, the researchers aimed and focused their light commands with a telescope, a telephoto lens, and a tripod. They tested 17 different devices representing a range of the most popular assistants. Kevin Fu, associate professor of computer science and engineering at U-M, said:

Users can take some measures to protect themselves from Light Commands. Sara Rampazzi, a postdoctoral researcher in computer science and engineering at U-M, said:

Provided by: University of Michigan [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

Follow us on Twitter or subscribe to our weekly email

Troy Oakes
Troy was born and raised in Australia and has always wanted to know why and how things work, which led him to his love for science. He is a professional photographer and enjoys taking pictures of Australia's beautiful landscapes. He is also a professional storm chaser where he currently lives in Hervey Bay, Australia.

Most Popular

Newsmax Survey: Majority of US Supports Election Recount

A recent survey conducted by Newsmax and McLaughlin & Associates showed that two-thirds of Americans are okay with President Donald Trump asking for a...

American Economy Surges By Record 33.1 Percent

The U.S. economy grew by 33.1 percent for the July-September quarter this year. This is the largest quarterly gain in history since records started...

Dominion Employee Previously Worked for Chinese State Company

An employee from Dominion Voting Systems, which is one of the largest voting machine providers in the U.S., has been found to have previously...

Trump Will Campaign For Georgia Senators In Runoff Elections

President Donald Trump will be participating in a rally on Dec. 5 in Georgia to support U.S. Senate candidates of the Republican Party in...