Understanding and Mitigating the Security Risks of Voice-Controlled Third-Party Skills on Amazon Alexa and Google Home

3 May 2018  ·  Nan Zhang, Xianghang Mi, Xuan Feng, XiaoFeng Wang, Yuan Tian, Feng Qian ·

Virtual personal assistants (VPA) (e.g., Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant) today mostly rely on the voice channel to communicate with their users, which however is known to be vulnerable, lacking proper authentication. The rapid growth of VPA skill markets opens a new attack avenue, potentially allowing a remote adversary to publish attack skills to attack a large number of VPA users through popular IoT devices such as Amazon Echo and Google Home. In this paper, we report a study that concludes such remote, large-scale attacks are indeed realistic. More specifically, we implemented two new attacks: voice squatting in which the adversary exploits the way a skill is invoked (e.g., "open capital one"), using a malicious skill with similarly pronounced name (e.g., "capital won") or paraphrased name (e.g., "capital one please") to hijack the voice command meant for a different skill, and voice masquerading in which a malicious skill impersonates the VPA service or a legitimate skill to steal the user's data or eavesdrop on her conversations. These attacks aim at the way VPAs work or the user's mis-conceptions about their functionalities, and are found to pose a realistic threat by our experiments (including user studies and real-world deployments) on Amazon Echo and Google Home. The significance of our findings have already been acknowledged by Amazon and Google, and further evidenced by the risky skills discovered on Alexa and Google markets by the new detection systems we built. We further developed techniques for automatic detection of these attacks, which already capture real-world skills likely to pose such threats.

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Cryptography and Security


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