Hackers can use lasers to send commands to smart home assistants

Laser pointers are a very accessible gadget in today’s world and it turns out that they can be used to take control of phones, tablets and even smart speakers by sending them fake “voice commands” to open doors or even purchase items online, and all of this can be done from a long distance because of the great power of lasers.

The discovery 

Researchers from Japan and the United States discovered that Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple Siri can all be controlled by aiming laser pointers or even simple flashlights at their microphones.

The team managed to access smart speakers located up to 350 feet away by using a telephoto lens in order to focus laser beams. They even got to trick Google Home to open a garage door from another building by modulating the beam that was aimed at the microphone to mimic the same effect as saying “OK Google, open the garage door.”

How it works

Inside any smart speaker’s microphone there is a small part named “diaphragm” which moves when it is hit by soundwaves. It turns out that lasers can also mimic this behaviour and translate it into electric signal which can be understood and processed by the device. The team pointed out that this was actually an easy thing to do, and it is possible to use the very same method to do online purchases, open smart padlocks or even unlock cars that use voice recognition software as a means of locking / unlocking. 

Thankfully, the researchers warned giants like Google, Apple, Tesla, Amazon and Ford about this safety breach. They believe that there is no simple solution to this other than redesigning microphones (changing the entire way they detect sound).

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