How to Secure Your Data, Smart Tech, and Digital Assistants

Digital assistants have already taken over the homeowner market, and now AI companies are eyeing the workplace. AI devices, which listen for voice commands, open up a slew of privacy questions that leave businesses stuck choosing between efficiency and data security. Understanding the risks and rewards of AI technologies and smart tech can help you prepare your business for these new technologies. 

Digital Assistants and Private Data
Digital assistants are one of the most popular features in the digital world, and sales of devices like Google’s Home, Amazon’s Echo, and Apple’s HomePod have skyrocketed past expectation, creating an entire market revolving around smart home technology.

By 2022, these devices could find their way into over half of US households (that’s 175 million devices). Their popularity is driven by the convenience these devices provide for all sorts of tasks, from playing music to ordering laundry detergent. 

Unsurprisingly, the tech giants behind these digital assistants are capitalizing on their stunning success by expanding the market. Amazon is looking to expand its Echo device line into the office with Alexa for Business. As these devices are incorporated into offices across the US, important questions about privacy, security, and data vulnerability are cropping up with renewed urgency. 

Are Digital Assistants Safe?
Digital assistants are vulnerable, just like any other electronic device. While there has yet to be a pandemic spread of malware in AI devices, their connection to your business’s high-speed internet connection makes a breach possible. Other security threats have been identified; a research lab in China found that commands played at ultrahigh frequencies, inaudible to the human ear, could potentially be used to control digital assistants. 

Digital assistants are always listening, and the commands you give to your device are also recorded. This command storage is part of the reason these devices work at all, and the ability to record your conversation is spelled out in the user agreement. If you opt in to voice activation, these companies have the right to keep your data for as long as two years.

The privacy issues associated with recording evoked some significant responses within the tech world and beyond. In 2012, IBM banned the use of Siri and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) issued an official warning as part of a digital privacy campaign.

Voice Recordings Leave a Trail
If you’re considering using a digital assistant in your business, it’s important to understand the ways your data is used, stored, and secured. Each request prompted by a voice command leaves a digital signature. Most of the time, the request is tagged with a device ID and stored on a server at the host company. 

When these devices were first launched, there was a lot of ambiguity about how these device IDs and their associated voice commands were stored and used. Today, most AI services allow you to manually delete your stored data, but some users may default to allowing the storage of their data for months or years. 

How Secure Are Digital Assistants?
Once your voice command is recorded, it ends up on a server at the respective company’s headquarters (or, more likely, a storage facility). Amazon operates an estimated 1.5–2 million individual servers, each of which could be vulnerable to a breach. 

Data breaches are becoming increasingly common, and even major companies with multiple layers of security have been successfully hacked, demonstrating the possibility of a breach of Amazon’s cloud services. If Amazon stores voice data from your business, the details of your requests and the actual voice recordings could be exposed. 

Other Impacts for Businesses
More targeted attacks associated with corporate espionage represent another threat that could be introduced by the use of a digital assistant. Since these devices have a microphone and an internet connection, they’re ideal for infiltrating past company security protocols, according to white hat hacker William Caput in an interview for Inc.com.

Before deciding to use a digital assistant, check the services offered by your internet provider to know where your digital security starts.

How to Secure Your Digital Assistant
Many of the default settings of a digital assistant can leave your company vulnerable to a breach. If the benefits of an AI warrant the potential security risk, you can take a few steps to protect yourself from being hacked. 

How to Secure Your Digital Assistant
Many of the default settings of a digital assistant can leave your company vulnerable to a breach. If the benefits of an AI warrant the potential security risk, you can take a few steps to protect yourself from being hacked. 

  1. Delete any stored data. The process varies by manufacturer, but deleting your saved data will keep it from falling into the wrong hands in the event of a breach. 
  2. Avoid linking sensitive accounts. These devices can sync with your address book and calendar, but linking these services exposes your data. 
  3. Mute the microphone. Any conversations held while the microphone is muted will remain private. 

As the technology behind digital assistants continues to develop, it’s possible that these devices will eventually lose their vulnerable tether to the cloud. AI chip development indicates that the capabilities of these devices may one day exist locally. Until then, security will remain a key issue for businesses. 

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