How secure are Alexa and Google Home?

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) - If you don't have an Amazon Echo or Google Home device already, maybe it's on this year's Christmas wish list. Did you know that your smart home device is always listening, even when you're not making commands to find your favorite music or TV show?

Who's getting the information from your private conversations?

Checking in with Amazon Echo's Alexa is a daily thing for Kim Stephens. The busy West Knoxville mother of two gets down to business while her sons are in school, working from home as a corporate consultant.

"Usually we start with the weather, asking what the weather is today. Sometimes I ask about the news and then, since I work from home, I usually ask it to play my favorite songs," Stephens said.

Should Stephens be worried about her smart home device listening in on all of her conversations?

"I don't really have any concerns and that's probably a little naive of me to not have those concerns, but I don't feel like I'm giving it that much information," she said.

Cyber security expert Jason Graf with Sword and Shield Enterprise Security explained the risks of these devices.

"Understand that Alexa is listening every second of the day that it's not muted or turned off for its keywords," Graf said. "Of course, it's going to record everything out of that. Now you assume that Amazon is handling this information responsibly, that they're not recording and sending all of the things it hears up to a location and using those. But they have the technical ability to do that. Could it be harvested, he rhetorically asks, by a malicious person?"

If you're not currently using your device, simply mute it. The button is on the top or side of the unit, depending on which brand you have.

Don't connect sensitive accounts to Echo.

Erase old recordings. If you use Echo, go to Amazon's website under "Manage My Device."

Check your Google settings. If you use Google Home, it has a settings page online, too, where you can grant or refuse various permissions.

If a cyber security pro is worried about what Alexa does with your info after recording it and sending it to a server, you should be, too. After his advice, Stephens says she's re-thinking her already savvy attitude about Alexa from now on.

"I wasn't concerned, but now, of course, I am concerned because my office is just right there so she definitely could hear my work calls or any of those sorts of calls. I sometimes turn her off during the day , so maybe I'll think about doing that a little bit more," Stephens says.

Graf also says this advice goes for your phone, too. If you're chatting with someone and your cell phone is nearby, it's a good idea to turn it off, just to make sure your private conversation isn't being recorded and stored, putting your security at risk.


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