Is that voice-activated device on the conference table a spy?


One of the most promising “things” in the Internet of Things (IoT) is voice-activated devices that act as personal assistants.

Home assistants such as Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Apple HomePod are becoming increasingly popular among consumers who enjoy the convenience of a device that will follow commands to turn lights on and off, order pizza, and play mood music. Plus they allow regular people a modest taste of godlike omnipotence (and if that’s not a selling point, I don’t know what is).

These devices are just the beginning of the voice-enabled revolution. Voice assistants with the ability to understand natural language are being integrated into appliances, motor vehicles, furniture, consumer electronics, and more. So it’s only a matter of time before enterprise IT professionals begin seeing voice-activated devices showing up in offices and workplaces. That is, if they haven’t already.

And as with any emerging technology, enterprises will need an integration strategy and set of policies for usage of voice-activated devices because there are, shall we say, considerations.

For example, say you’re in a high-level corporate strategy meeting in which proprietary information is being discussed. Is that voice-activated assistant on the conference table recording the conversation? If so, where is the audio file being stored? And who has access to it?

Hacking is another potential security concern, as MWR InfoSecurity reports:

The Amazon Echo is vulnerable to a physical attack that allows an attacker to gain a root shell on the underlying Linux operating system and install malware without leaving physical evidence of tampering. Such malware could grant an attacker persistent remote access to the device, steal customer authentication tokens, and the ability to stream live microphone audio to remote services without altering the functionality of the device.

That kind of thing should be fun for IT to deal with! On the plus side, the prospect of conversations being recorded by IoT devices in the office might cut down on harassment and abuse. (One can dream.)

The home devices sold by Amazon, Google, and Apple can be managed to some extent through a settings function, allowing users to mute sound and restrict permissions. Since it’s not likely that employees will be any more diligent about IoT security than they are about mobile or cloud security — or just about any work-related security, really — it’s going to be up to IT to manage and secure (or ban!) these devices.

Does your enterprise already have voice-activated devices in the office? How are they working out? Feel free to leave a comment below. Or have your voice-activated assistant leave one. They’re there to help, after all.


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  1. […] long ago, I wrote that it’s “only a matter of time before enterprise IT professionals begin seeing voice-activated devices sho… to act as virtual assistants. For some enterprises, that time is […]

  2. […] Is that voice-activated device on the conference table a spy? […]

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