Friday, March 31, 2017

Amazon Alexa - super cool or super scary?

We all want the Star Trek experience in every way, and we want it ASAP.  We want starships and transporters and tricorders and replicators.  The creators of Star Trek thought the whole thing through and they figured out just what we want if we could have it.

Of course, the technology divide was huge back in the 60s when Kirk was doing even simple things like talking on his communicator or talking to the ship's computer interactively.  While we are still a long way from warp drive, transporters and replicators, the common smart phone of today actually looks like an upgrade to Kirk's communicator and an Android tablet is starting to take on more and more of the duties of the tricorder.

But today the big buzz is about getting that voice-interactive experience with a computer and the leader at present is Amazon with its Kindle Fire and Amazon Dot products.  Not only can they answer quite a few voice based questions (although still far from perfect), they can also be used for voice control of the home.

And that's where things get a bit scary IMO.  Today you can hook up your front door electronic lock as well as your garage door to Alexa and use voice control to open your front door or your garage door.  That is way cool but its like leaving either of these doors wide open because these systems have about zero percent security.  All someone has to do is yell at your Amazon dot from your front door to go ahead and open the front door and Alexa will do your bidding, even if you don't live there.  Same for the garage door.  I predict that in the not distant future we will see war driving take on a new face.  Instead of driving around looking for open wifi networks to hack into, hackers and thieves will come by your house when nobody is home and attempt to see if you've left Alexa enabled so that she will open up a door for him.

Besides this rather obvious security fail I just found that if you want to control wifi light bulbs like the TP-Link variety, you have to give your router's wifi password to TP-Link's cloud service.  But don't worry, they'll never get hacked, right?  And of course, if they do get hacked then they will be sure to tell everyone so that you can change your wifi password, yeah?  And certainly the Chinese government would never walk into TP Link's office and demand back door access to the whole shooting match.  I mean, governments aren't evil like that, are they?

Well, yes, they are.  Governments are run by a very few people at the top so the entire entity can quickly take on the qualities of the guy running the show, even if he's an asshole.  It's not much different than the large so called "Jaeger" robots depicted in the sci fi movie, "Pacific Rim".  When you are at the head of a Jaeger you are one powerful mofo because all the parts and pieces that make it up are under your direct command. They either follow orders or are labeled defective and replaced.  That's why our spy agencies hack Samsung TVs in order to get audio and video of their targets.

By installing this current generation of Trojan Horse devices we essentially open the door to government spying and government control.  Now, many people think that they aren't doing anything wrong and thus have nothing to hide.  But a lot of people who thought that the government was there for them have been seriously disappointed when they finally figure out that corrupt government can only be trusted to screw you when you can least afford to handle it.

Bottom line, if you use these devices then you should fully understand the security risks from governments and other criminals and figure out how you can play with these toys without being sorry about it later on.  I am not suggesting that people avoid these toys!  They are just too cool.  But know the risks and demand that the industry add some basic security to the process as these toys mature.

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