Alexa can be a really helpful assistant at times, but remember she does have full access to your Amazon account and can therefore easily be a source of problems. Below are a few really simple steps that everybody should take to reduce the risk of having you Alexa or your Amazon account abused!
I was first introduced to the first Amazon Echo at a friends house, where they were showing off just how easily they could ask questions and add items to a shopping list. This looked great and I remember asking at the time, can anybody use your Alexa to go shopping then. To which I was assured “no, off course not!”
Challenge accepted! – Later that evening we were talking about digital camera’s and I found one on amazon we all liked. So I asked his smart speaker – “Alexa, please add a Panasonic LUMIX camera to my basket” to which Alexa replied “sure, I have added this item to your basket, would you like to place the order now?”, to which I responded with “yes please” and behold, Alexa confirmed my purchase!
It was then quite funny to watch friend then scramble to the website to cancel the order in a mad panic.
Very funny at the time but there is a serious message here and one that’s been further re-enforced by news of TV adverts triggering smart speakers. I also later discovered that his 8 year old daughter had been ordering DVD’s without their consent.
So, here goes three very easily applied principles when using a smart device…
Tip 1. Change your trigger word
The first and easiest step that nobody seems to consider is to ‘re-name’ your Alexa to one of the other three trigger words that are available. For me I use ‘echo’ as the keyword and this also reduces the likelihood of Alexa being triggered by the TV or reacting to a conversation about your smart speaker.
To do this, open the app and go to ‘Settings’ and select your alexa device. Scrolling down the screen you should get to the GENERAL section where you will see the ‘Wake Word’ as shown below…
This can be changed to one of four options. My personal preference is ‘Echo’ however ‘Amazon’ is even less obvious a trigger and better sill, for all the old Star Trek geeks out there you can even use ‘Computer’
Tip 2. Ensure you have a pin activated for confirming purchases.
Within the Alexa App, there is a settings option under the heading ‘Alexa Account’ related to Voice Purchasing.
Under this option you can set a 4 digit pin which will be asked for if purchases are made via Alexa.
Tip 3. Use the Mute Button when practical
The third tip is to simply use the microphone mute button on your smart speaker when you don’t plan to use it for a while or when you might be talking about something sensitive near by. This ones for the real paranoid folks out there but seriously, if your phoning your bank or discussing your latest crimes, simple press the mic button on the top of Alexa and all sins should be forgiven!
And that’s it! Simple enough, but something many don’t seem to consider when installing a smart home voice assistant.
I believe Google and Apple have similar options available but I’ve not covered those here.
Finally the other words of caution relate to standard smart home security in general. Usual tips like ensuring your WiFi is secure and that and devices within your home network are secure and reputable are the other must have steps.
Remember, most smart home devices do not operate within the confines of your home network or even talk directly to your smart hub. Most devices send signals outside your home network to a server which then talks to the Amazon Alexa server who then relays the message back to you hub – all this provides lots of potential for hackers, something that we’ll cover more of in follow on articles.