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Many of us are going headless, in a device sense anyway! But is it a good thing and is this headless thing secure? Well, the other week I got involved in reacting to a tweet about Amazon Echo, being introduced into a Care Home environment. Here it is below.
here to read the tweet and the discussion following.
No doubt about it, this is cool tech. Who would choose a Querty (or an Azerty pour la Franciais readers - merci!) keyboard over speaking your commands? Didn't Captain Kirk have one on the Enterprise, to rebel the Klingons, on the starboard bow? I think he did.
As at the end of 2017, it was estimated worldwide, over 20 million homes had a voice activated assistant. Most of these were from Amazon (73%), remainder from Google (27%). Amazons, comes ready primed to shop (as you would expect). You can easily disable this feature however.
Once the digital assistant is awake, it records what is said and sends that recording (over an encrypted connection) to the back end servers, where it’s stored. These devices are 'always listening'. These headless devices, posing as smart speakers are designed to be hubs that can control other Internet of Things (IoT) appliances in the home. This could be lights, thermostat, and door locks. This convenience creates some potential vulnerabilities.
Clearly just shouting 'open the front door', or 'disable the alarm', would make life very easy for burglars out there. So clearly not sensible applications perhaps, if you value your security.
Probably pre-storing your credit card info, passwords etc, in your headless digital assistant, is not so smart either. It might be convenient, but not so secure for thieves or maybe teenage family members, looking to make an impulse purchase.
So what are Amazon and the like doing about security?
Well in fairness, they disallow third party apps being installed on the device, in their own words, "instigate rigorous security reviews, secure software development requirements and encryption of communication between Echo, the Alexa App and Amazon servers".
So, what security tips are worth considering?
Well, link your headless device to a known home or work wifi connection. Avoid an open or public node. Use strong passwords and two-factor authentication (2FA) when available. Mute the device when you go away on holiday, so someone outside the house can’t shout commands to it. Be careful about which accounts you connect. If you don’t need to use the calendar or address book don’t enable these features.
On the plus side (and there's plenty on the plus side), these can be used very well to connect with IOT (Internet of Things) devices for all kinds of domestic and social care applications. Alexa flexibly allows 'skills' to be added, which may allow residents to access information or perform other tasks. E.G. Ask for their rent balance, request a landlord visit or other action. IOT can monitor usual activities, such as what sort of time residents first use the bathroom or switch on an IOT connected kettle for the morning brew, and alert care staff if this does not happen at a usual time.
While this would not necessarily replace qualified care staff coming in, on a regular basis, it might well complement it, or provide different choices for certain residents, who might prefer more privacy or more social interaction. I don't think it should be an all or nothing approach, residents are key to all this tech fitting together.
Related Post: Forget the ICT team, its your users who need to play to win, for your projects...
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(c) Tony Smith, Acutance Consulting www.acutanceconsulting.co.uk 07854-655009
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