RESEARCHERS have disclosed an issue discovered within the Amazon Echo that allowed hackers to steal personal information, previous voice commands, and more. Here’s what you need to know.
Amazon Echo owners have been warned about the potential to hack Alexa (Image: AMAZON • GETTY)
We use your sign-up to provide content in ways you’ve consented to and to improve our understanding of you. This may include adverts from us and 3rd parties based on our understanding. You can unsubscribe at any time. More info
Amazon Echo owners have been warned that voice assistant Alexa could allow hackers to access their personal information, install or remove Alexa Skills (what Amazon calls apps for its smart speaker), or listen to recordings of voice commands. Researchers found a vulnerability within the talkative assistant that can be exploited using a malicious link crafted by a cyber crook.
With more than 200 million Amazon Echo units sold globally, Alexa could become a popular target for cyber criminals.
Security researchers from Check Point discovered the flaw within Alexa. The attack cannot be initiated with the voice activated speaker itself, but instead requires cyber crooks to handcraft a malicious link – that looks as if it has been sent by Amazon. If the hackers can convince the target to click on the link, they will be able to:
- Access the target’s personal information, like banking data history, usernames for online accounts, phone numbers, and home address
- Extract and listen to voice recordings from previous requests to Alexa
- Silently install skills onto the target’s Alexa account to enable new features
- View the complete list of Alexa skills already associated with the target’s account
- Silently remove an installed skill to stop it working
Amazon Echo owners need to be careful when clicking on any links. After all, Echo owners can save a lot of information with their account details, including their home Wi-Fi name and password, home address, and more. Cyber criminals often use malicious links to exploit vulnerabilities in devices and accounts, so you should never enter your personal information into untrusted online forms.
Amazon Echo owners’ details could be hijacked if they clicked on a malicious handcrafted URL (Image: GETTY)
Oded Vanunu, Head of Products Vulnerabilities Research at Check Point, said: “Smart speakers and virtual assistants are so commonplace that it’s easy to overlook just how much personal data they hold, and their role in controlling other smart devices in our homes. But hackers see them as entry points into peoples’ lives, giving them the opportunity to access data, eavesdrop on conversations or conduct other malicious actions without the owner being aware.
“We conducted this research to highlight how securing these devices is critical to maintaining users’ privacy. Thankfully, Amazon responded quickly to our disclosure to close off these vulnerabilities on certain Amazon/Alexa subdomains. We hope manufacturers of similar devices will follow Amazon’s example and check their products for vulnerabilities that could compromise users’ privacy. Previously, we conducted research on TikTok, WhatsApp and Fortnite.
“Alexa has concerned us for a while now, given its ubiquity and connection to IoT devices. It’s these mega-digital platforms that present the biggest security risk and can hurt us the most. Therefore, their security levels are of crucial importance.”
Amazon has fixed this issue after it was alerted by Check Point about the vulnerability. So, thankfully, this particular exploit won’t be threatening Amazon Echo owners.
A spokesperson for Amazon told us: “The security of our devices is a top priority, and we appreciate the work of independent researchers like Check Point who bring potential issues to us. We fixed this issue soon after it was brought to our attention, and we continue to further strengthen our systems. We are not aware of any cases of this vulnerability being used against our customers or of any customer information being exposed.”
If you’re passing on an Amazon Echo device to a family member or even selling it, you’ll want to wipe the slate clean and unlink your data. Here’s how to remove Alexa devices from your account.
All you’ll need is the Amazon Alexa app on your smartphone or tablet and a spare minute – but bear in the mind that the process varies slightly depending on what device you have.
If you’re deregistering official Amazon hardware (Echo devices), simply read on. If, however, you want to get rid of a different Alexa-enabled speaker skip to the second section.
How to remove official Alexa devices from your account
First, open the Alexa app and tap the menu icon (three horizontal lines) in the top right of the screen.
Once that’s open, select Device Settings.
This will bring up a list of all of your Alexa devices. Choose the one you want to deregister.
On the device page that appears, scroll down to the “Registered To” subheading, which will have your name underneath, and tap “Deregister”.
All that’s left to do is confirm the action and you’re free to gift or sell the Alexa device.
How to remove other Alexa devices from your account
If you’re deregistering a different Alexa device, the process is different – but still a piece of cake.
Tap or click this link and sign into your Amazon account. You will see a list of all of your connected devices. Find the one your want to remove and click the ellipsis button (“…”) to the left of the listing.
In the pop-up box that appears, click the small “Deregister” button and you’re done!
Alexa skills are kind of like apps for your Amazon Echo. Downloading new Alexa skills allows you to expand the voice commands recognized by your smart speaker. In fact, there are more than 60,000 Alexa skills that an Amazon Echo can learn in the US alone. With so many skills, it can be hard to find the right one for you. To help you decide, we’ve picked the 15+ best Alexa skills for 2020.
Music and Audio Skills
Your Amazon Echo can play music from your favorite streaming services such as Spotify, Amazon Music, Apple Music, and Pandora. If you want to know how to play music from another service, check out our guide on how to play Apple Music on Alexa. However, it’s worth noting that your smart speaker also has many other music and audio skills that you should consider enabling.
Sleep and Relaxation Sounds – Do you have a hard time sleeping at night? If you need white noise to lull you to sleep, this skill has over 125 sounds to choose from.
TED Talks – This skill gives you access to a library of inspiring lectures from TED Talks. You can choose to play the latest talks or explore them by topic or speaker.
NPR – With this skill enabled, you will have access to live radio from a network of NPR member stations. It’s a wonderful choice for anyone who wants to hear both local and international news. The skill lets you browse by location, change stations, or play any other NPR program.
Skills for Self-Care and Improvement
Get Me Up – If you find it hard to get up in the morning, this fun Alexa skill will be a lifesaver. It’s more than just an alarm. Consider it a nagging robot that wants nothing but the best for you. It will not stop until you actually get up and do something productive with your day.
My Morning – Once you finally get out of bed, this Alexa skill will help you start your day on the right foot. It will guide you through a five-minute meditation that includes affirmation statements, visualizing your day, stating what you’re grateful for, and saying what your priorities are for the day.
Fitbit – Keep your fitness and health goals by enabling Fitbit on Alexa. This skill tells your progress and gets you motivated throughout the day.
7-Minute Workout – With this skill enabled, you won’t need a lot of time to exercise. The 7-Minute Workout skill lets you choose between a low-impact, standard, or advanced workout. You can also choose to target specific muscle groups. And, to help you keep track of your progress, you will also receive weekly and monthly performance summaries.
Make Me Smart – This cool Alexa skill gives you nuggets of information from a wide range of categories, including pop culture, current events, tech, and more. Just say, “Alexa, make me smart,” and you’ll be inundated with useful information. This skill is a great way to keep up to date in today’s fast-paced world!
Best Alexa Skills for the Kitchen
Meal Idea – This incredibly useful Alexa skill gives you basic recipes for everyday cooking. Most of the recipes use ingredients that you likely already have in your pantry or refrigerator, making food preparation much easier.
OurGroceries – This skill requires you to download the OurGroceries app and set up an account. Once you do, this skill helps you add items to your lists, so you don’t forget a thing when it’s time to go shopping. The lists you create are then synchronized on the smartphones in your household. It also keeps track of recipes, barcodes, and photos of products.
Best Alexa Skills for Kids
Chompers – Do you have a hard time getting your kids to brush their teeth? That’s where the Chompers skill comes in! This Alexa skill makes the whole dental hygiene experience more entertaining for your kids. It tells jokes, plays silly music, and, best of all, tells your kids about proper brushing techniques.
Amazon Storytime – This Alexa skill reads a story to your kids from Amazon’s own selection of children’s books. The stories are perfect for kids ages 5-12. There are several categories to choose from, including silly, family, friends, and others.
Sesame Street – Sesame Street is a timeless show to entertain and teach your children. And, in the age of smart speakers, it also happens to be one of the best Alexa skills you can get. When you add this skill, your kids will be able to speak and interact with Elmo. How fun!
Best Alexa Skills for Seniors
Ask My Buddy – This skill lets you ask for assistance with just a simple voice command. When you sign up for an Ask My Buddy account, you will be asked to create a Personal Alert Network of close friends and family. Then, if you need assistance, you just say “Alexa, Ask My Buddy to send help,” and an alert will be sent to all the phone numbers on your network.
Phone Finder – For elderly Amazon Echo users who often need assistance in locating their mobile phones, this skill will be a godsend. Once enabled, this skill will help you locate your phone when you misplace it. Your device will ring even if it is on silent.
Mastermind – This skill has several features that let you communicate or get things done hands-free. It can be used to send text messages and emails. It can also make phone calls, share your location, do internet searches, launch maps, access schedules, and much more.
Your Amazon Echo can do so much more, especially when connected with other smart devices in your home. If you want to know more, check out our previous article about other cool things that you can do with Alexa.
Alexa has skills in the bedroom—no, not that way!
Updated May 18, 2018
Recommendations are independently chosen by Reviewed’s editors. Purchases you make through our links may earn us a commission.
Many people opt to put their Amazon Echo in the living room or kitchen, but if you’re a forward-thinker, you might keep your Alexa-enabled device in the bedroom. We have to hand it to you, too—there are actually a lot of cool Alexa skills that are best used in the bedroom! But you knew that already, right?
Whether your Echo is already on your nightstand or you’re contemplating putting one in there—we recommend the Spot—here are eight of the best Alexa skills to try in the bedroom. (This admittedly resembles the start of many NSFW Cosmo articles, but don’t fret. These skills are all family-friendly.)
1. Help you get out of bed
Alexa can be pretty annoying when she needs to.
After your alarm goes off in the morning, do you lie there forever, willing yourself to get out of bed? I think we can all relate, and Alexa is here to help. Thanks to the Get Me Up skill, Alexa will pester you until you drag your lazy behind out of your cozy blanket cocoon. Seriously, the more you say no, the more annoying she gets.
Here’s one reviewer’s experience: “[Alexa] gets a little more annoying with each response … One time she said, ‘Ok, now I’m going to have to get really annoying, get up, get up, get up, get up, get up, get up…’”
2. Provide soothing bedtime noise
Want the sound of waves to lull you to sleep? Alexa can do that!
Personally, I’m addicted to my white noise machine. I can’t sleep without it anymore! If you like ambient noise while you sleep (it really is helpful when you have obnoxious neighbors), there are a variety of Alexa skills to provide just that.
Choose from Thunderstorm Sounds, Ocean Sounds, Rainforest Sounds, and more. You can even put the noises on loop so they’ll play all night.
3. Find your phone when it’s buried in the covers
Find your phone quickly, no matter where it’s hiding.
If you say you’ve never lost your phone in your bed, I’m calling your bluff. Blankets have the unique ability to swallow up phones, which is why the Find My Phone skill is key in the bedroom. Just say, “Alexa, find my phone,” and it will start ringing.
4. Gently light up your room at night
Turn your Echo into a nightlight with one simple command.
Need a light to help you navigate to the bathroom in the middle of the night? Alexa can help with that. With the Night Light skill, you can simply say, “Alexa, open Night Light for five minutes,” and your Echo will give off a subdued light that won’t hurt your sleepy eyes. Then, it will turn itself off after five minutes.
5. Check if you locked the door
Alexa can make sure the door in locked at you settle in for the night.
The worst thing ever is when you’re all comfy in bed, only to realize you might have forgotten to lock the front door. Don’t worry about peeling yourself out of your blankets to go back downstairs, though. Instead, use the August Home skill to ask Alexa if the door is locked. If it’s not, you can have her lock it remotely. You do have to have an August Smart Lock for this to work, but don’t worry. This is the best smart lock for Alexa and an Editors’ Choice award winner, so your home is in good hands.
6. Read you daily affirmations
Let Alexa read you a positive affirmation each morning.
Need to start your morning off on a positive note? Ask Alexa to read you a daily affirmation via the Daily Morning Affirmation skill. Reviewers call it “simple and positive” and say this skill will “start your day off on a good foot.”
The Amazon Echo is the flagship Alexa device and currently the only Echo model with a screen. It’s easily recognizable and has been featured in television and online content many times.
The Amazon Echo Show was introduced relatively recently. It retained all the features of the flagship Echo model, while adding a touchscreen and other functionalities to the table. This perfectly justifies the heftier price tag.
However, many users have complained about the incessant stream of tips and things to try that appear on the Echo Show’s screen around the clock. Let’s see what can be done about it.
Can You Remove the Tips?
The first thing that you need to make peace with when it comes to the Echo Show is that you’ll frequently see tips on the main screen. Essentially, the device will encourage you to try saying certain phrases which can be useful in the beginning, but you’ll grow out of it very soon.
So, how can you get rid of this? Unfortunately, you can’t. These tips are there to stay and have been somewhat of a controversy online. It’s a frustrating feature that Amazon is likely working on fixing.
Another annoying part of your Echo Show home screen is likely going to be the “Discover More with Alexa” bar. Fortunately, this feature can be easily turned off. Just swipe down from the top of the screen and tap the gear icon. From this menu, go to Home Screen, then Home Content, and you’ll see the Discovery option. Turn it off and you’ll no longer see the “Discover More with Alexa” bar.
From the Home Screen menu, go to Home Cards. From here, you’ll get to disable a lot of potentially unnecessary info and notifications that you may be receiving on your Echo Show. You can turn off Notifications, Upcoming Events, Drop In, Trending Topics, etc. Again, it would be nice to see a new entry called “Tips” or “Hints” here that you can turn off. Now, let’s see what else you can do to make your Echo Show experience better.
Connect the Calendar
You are probably using your phone’s calendar to stay organized. It has been doing a good job so far and your life has probably become much more structured since you’ve gotten serious about your calendar. However, having that exact calendar on your Echo Show device can boost your organization skills and make everything more accessible, merely because you’ll have Alexa by your side.
Importing the calendar is an easy process that takes a few minutes. Just swipe down from the upper area of the screen and tap the gear icon. Find the Calendar option and select it. Now, select the calendar that you’re using (Gmail, Outlook, Office 365, iCloud, etc.), enter the login info, and perform the two-factor authentication if prompted.
So, what benefits does it bring to the table? Well, if you can simply say “Alexa, what is my next appointment” and Alexa will tell you the first upcoming item on your calendar. Say “Alexa, what does my week look like,” and Alexa will describe the next 4 calendar items and ask you whether you’d like to hear more. Additionally, you can use voice commands to add calendar items, remove them, edit your entries, and more.
Customize the Home Screen Pictures
Echo Show cycles through stock background images by default. Some users prefer this, a depersonalized, although stylistic and inspirational photo collage on their Echo Show’s Home screen. However, if you want to add your own photos or album, you can do it via the Prime Photos website or using the Alexa app on your smartphone or tablet.
If you are subscribed to Prime Photos, simply create an album on it, open the Settings menu on the Echo Show device, go to Home Screen, Background, and tap Prime Photos. Alternatively, select Alexa app instead of Prime Photos from the menu. Then, run the Alexa app on your phone/tablet, go to Settings, and find Your Echo Show on the list of offered devices. Now, simply tap Home Screen Background and upload a photo from your phone.
A Voice Tip
For some reason, Amazon hasn’t made this part very obvious: if you are inside a task or a skill and want to get out, you can’t just press the “back” button. You need to say “Alexa, go home,” in order to do it. At no point does the Echo Show give you this tip. Also, you can say “Alexa, turn off the screen,” to make the screen go dark.
Echo Show Tips
These are some of the more basic Echo Show tips for you to make the most out of. Keep in mind that there is plenty more to learn about with the Echo Show.
Do you have some additional tips for Echo Show users? Are you experiencing any problems with it? How do you feel about being unable to turn off tips? Feel free to hit the comments section below.