Magazine article Risk Management

The Risks of Voice Technology

Magazine article Risk Management

The Risks of Voice Technology

Article excerpt

These days, voice technology is everywhere. Voice-enabled digital devices and virtual assistants from Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft and others can answer a question, provide a weather report, turn up the thermostat or even order a pizza. Businesses are using voice technology to improve call center performance, verify customer account information and assist workers on the job.

Described as "the next paradigm shift in IT" by Gartner Research, voice technology use is booming both at home and in the workplace. "Spoken interfaces are proliferating and successful implementations can reduce operating costs while improving customer experience," said Dan Miller, lead analyst and founder of Opus Research, an analysis firm focused on intelligent assistance including voice technology.

As of the end of 2016, he estimated, more than 1,200 companies had implemented nearly 2,700 intelligent technology products, 400 of which are voice-enabled, with many more to come. Indeed, according to an IHS Markit report, the AI-powered digital assistance market--which includes voice-enabled devices--is on track to exceed four billion consumer devices by the end of 2017 and will grow to more than seven billion by 2020.

"Voice is finally breaking through as the next interface," said Peter Cahill, founder and CEO of Voysis, a Dublin-based software firm.

Voice-enabled technology has been around for ages--IBM, for example, has been working on it for decades. But it was the more recent success of virtual assistants like Apple's Siri and Amazons Alexa that really helped put voice technology in the spotlight. Now, the use of voice-enabled technology is becoming increasingly common. Indeed, Gartner Research predicts that 20% of smartphone interactions will occur through intelligent assistants in 2019, and by 2020, a majority of all tech devices will be designed to work with voice control.

"Consumers are becoming increasingly comfortable with the technology, which is driving engagement," said Martin Utreras, vice president of forecasting at eMarketer. "As prices decrease and functionality increases, consumers are finding more reasons to adopt these devices." Walmart, for example, recently partnered with Google to enable voice-controlled purchasing.

While more people are readily introducing these devices into both home and business settings, experts warn of the risks and challenges associated with voice technology. "The addition of voice absolutely increases the risk level for technology users," said Nathan Wenzler, chief security strategist at AsTech Consulting, a cyberrisk management firm. "When you add more features to a device, you are also adding complexity and more code and, as a result, you are introducing more avenues for people to hack into the device. It's a major risk component."

Most devices that employ voice-response technology are internet of things devices and, like many data-collecting devices in this nascent category, manufacturers often do not embed adequate security measures into them. "It can be very easy to break into voice-enabled IoT devices and compromise them, and that opens up a lot of problems," he said.

One such concern is the vulnerability of any device that uses voice as a biometrie identification factor. "I can trick the device into thinking I am you or I can intercept your voice and then use your voice print for other purposes," Wenzler said. Your voice is essentially a password, but since you cannot change or alter it easily, once compromised, its effectiveness for security disappears.

Just as the quality of voice recognition and verification technology has improved, so has the ability to spoof or mimic someone else's voice for nefarious purposes, according to Dr. Alexander Rudnicky, professor in the Language Technologies Institute at Carnegie Mellon University's School of Computer Science. This can result in serious misuse and fraud in the form of "replay attacks," where a voice is replicated and then replayed to allow access to financial accounts, work facilities or virtual assistants. …

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