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It Did What? The Dirty Secrets About Digital Assistants

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Are Siri and Other Digital Assistants Actually a Security Risk?

People started fearing digital assistants before they even became a reality. Before computers were even a household commodity, Stanley Kubrick was terrifying cinemagoers with HAL, 2001: A Space Odyssey’s rogue AI assistant.

Today though, our intelligent personal assistants form an important part of our lives. As AI technology advances they will become even more prevalent.

While the dangers imagined in Sci-fi movies of the 60’s and 70’s are thankfully far from being around the corner, it’s important to look at the real security risks that digital assistants could pose.

Despite being the most popular intelligent personal assistants, Siri and Cortana are not the only iterations of this growing technology on the market. Amazon, for example, now offers it’s Echo device, while Facebook has recently released its own digital assistant called M.
So what are the dangers?

Not to sound too ominous, but IBM has banned the use of Siri for its employees. The rule was set by IBM Chief Technology Officer Jeanette Horan, who cited security concerns.

You know those large license agreements you have to agree to when you first start using a device, the ones most people don’t bother reading?

Well, Apple’s iPhone Software License Agreement, quite vaguely, shows how voice commands are used after being submitted to Siri. “When you use Siri or Dictation, the things you say will be recorded and sent to Apple in order to convert what you say into text.”

What’s more, “by using Siri or Dictation, you agree and consent to Apple’s and its subsidiaries’ and agents’ transmission, collection, maintenance, processing, and use of this information, including your voice input and User Data, to provide and improve Siri, Dictation, and other Apple products and services.”

Sounds like jargon? The convoluted styles in these agreements often help to gloss over important information that most companies know their user’s will be glancing over at best.

Siri may not literally be watching you, but the fact is that everything you say to her is sent to a big data center in Maiden, North Carolina. IBM’s Horan decided to ban Siri because it could be storing sensitive information for an unspecified amount of time.

If Apple were breached, hackers could intercept that data. And perhaps just as alarmingly, a lot of the data is sent to third party companies. Besides the fact that you’ll receive an onslaught of targeted ads, the more companies this information is sent to the less private it becomes.

This is far from being solely an Apple issue though.