Burton Kelso, Tech Expert
How To Protect Your Privacy from Your Smart Home Devices While Working From Home
Updated: Feb 21, 2021
Social distancing is sure to have a large impact with many companies rethinking their work from home strategy long after this COVID19 pandemic. Making sure employees keep company secrets safe has always been a concern when rolling out a mobile workforce. The main focus as always been on cybersecurity threats such as malware, ransomware and phishing schemes, but one of the biggest threats to your home-based business or mobile employees who work around their Amazon Alexa or Google Home devices. These devices are designed to listen and the information they hear could compromise your company information. Want to keep your company data safe for your home business and mobile staff, take the following precautions.
I think many of you who own smart home devices from Google and Amazon forget that these devices are designed to listen to your commands and respond to them. They only engage when you say the “wake” word such as “OK,Google” or “Alexa” But these devices are always listening so it's best to take steps to prevent them from listening.
1. Unplug or mute your Smart speaker. If you're worried your Google or Alexa is listening in to your conversations, simply unplug it ... or just move it to another room. Sounds pretty simple right? Well, that doesn't always work because there are some of us that use our smart hubs to listen for alerts or to monitor our smart homes. If this is the case, you can Google and Alexa each have a mute button that you touch that will keep your devices from listening for your voice commands.
Here is how you can mute your devices:
Amazon Echo: Press the microphone button at the top of your speaker. Hold the button until it turns red. To turn the microphone back on, press the button until it turns blue.
Google Home: Look for a button on the back of your smart speaker that has a microphone picture on it. Press the button. Four amber lights should appear at the top of your device, indicating the microphone is off. Press the button again to turn the microphone back on. The lights on your device should turn green to indicate the microphone is listening.
2. Delete Your Recordings on a Regular Basis. Smart speakers are designed to record your conversations and send the data they retrieve back to Google and Amazon to help them improve how the smart speaker works with you. Sounds like a great plan, but this can intrude in on your privacy. As of late last year, you can delete your recordings. Here's how:
Amazon Echo: Open your Alexa app, and tap on the left drop-down menu . Tap on “Settings.” Tap “Alexa Privacy,” then “Manage Your Alexa Data.” Under the “Manage your voice recordings” heading, set the “Automatically delete recordings” option to turn it “Off” to enable automatic deletions. Choose “Keep my recordings for 18 months” or “Keep my recordings for 3 months.” If you’d like to keep things very private, we suggest only keeping recordings for 3 months. Tap “Confirm.”
Google Home: Go to MyActivity.Google.com, or the Google App, and sign in to your Google account. In the left menu, click “Data & Personalization.” In the Activity Controls panel, click on “Web & App Activity,” then “Manage Activity.” Here, you’ll see past activity with an audio icon including a recording. Next to them, select “More” then “Delete.” To delete all of your recordings at once: Back in the “Google Account” menu, select “Delete Activity by.” Set the date to “All time” and the product to “Voice & Audio.” Click “Delete,” then click “OK.” 3. Beware of Credential Stuffing. Cybercriminals are always looking for information stored in your web-based accounts. Much of your information is already floating on the Internet and dark web thanks to the many data breaches that have occurred over the years. Criminals take your user name and password information and 'stuff' your online account with these credentials until they get access to your accounts. If you haven't deleted your recordings, criminals can see everything that you've said to your smart home devices, potentially giving them access to personal aspects of your business and life. Credential stuff was the cause of Ring doorbell devices getting 'hacked' last year. Always use different passwords for all of your online accounts and for the love of God please setup 2 Factor authentication with your smartphone device accounts.
4. Watch What Apps You Allow To Connect to your Smart Home Device. Not a lot of people use Google Actions or Alexa Skills, but you want to make sure you do a little digging before you enable that action or skill. Cybercriminals could create apps that are designed to spy on your smart home device, so only select skill and actions that you are familiar with. Like with the Apple and Google app store, read the review to ensure these apps for your smart home devices are legitimate and aren't spying on you and your device. As many of you know, I love smart home hubs. If you have one and you're working from home, make sure you set up your home office and your Google or Amazon device so you aren't leaking your private company data and conversations for the whole world to hear. If all of the above steps are just too much for you, just unplug your device when you are working or set up your office in a room without a smart home device.
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