Voice Activation: Risks to privacy?

We are not unfamiliar with voice control used to voice-activate many functions in a variety of devices. Most of us know how to voice-activate a multimedia system or the radio to play music from the beginning or to play our favourite tracks and to command cars etc. What if voice control is used to control the minds of people or to locate the whereabouts of people? If this were to happen then the risk to our privacies is undeniable.

Using biometric technology, intelligence agencies track voice to identify the person they are after. This human characteristic, like other characteristics such as speech, gait, fingerprints, iris, retina etc known as identifiers are used to match the physical characteristic to the identity of a person. Voice activity detection also known as VAD paves the way for fraudulent schemes where fraudsters record others’ voices on Amazon Alexa or google assistant and impersonate those individuals. The technique of tricking third parties, otherwise known as spoofing, is done by stitching a few samples to imitate the person’s voice. How many of the consumers of smart phone and voice assistant software are aware of Voice liveness detection also known as Void? Void can prevent hackers from spoofing by showing the difference between a live human voice and a voice played through speaker.  


 Out of the myriad techniques used by hackers, surfing attack seems to cause more serious threats to people employed in various industries. Voice commands encoded in ultrasonic waves are used to silently activate a phone’s digital assistant and through this feature the hacker makes phone calls as the owner of the phone or reads text messages. The surfing attack technique was tested by researchers at Michigan State University, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Washington University in St Louis in the US, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences and they were able to control 15 out of the 17 tested devices successfully. It is interesting to note that the surfing attack technique did not work on Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10+ and Huawei’s Mate 9.  


If voice activation can be used to control users of devices to such an extent, I am wondering if there is a wireless hub or a Bluetooth hub if it is possible to control a person’s mind and change their behaviour and actions to the extent shown in the film clip below from a Malayalam film titled ‘Forensic’. What a nightmare!

A scene from Malayalam film ‘Forensic’

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