Secure Sooner

Data Privacy Day 2019

It’s Data Privacy Day! So, we wanted to introduce our new Cybersecurity Awareness Course for students, Secure Sooner. This is a course developed BY students FOR students. Secure Sooner is available on Canvas, but you are not automatically enrolled so be sure to JOIN the course. We also thought it would be helpful to take this opportunity to share how to secure an Amazon Alexa device, especially if you are one of the lucky winners of our Secure Sooner contest! Thanks to our Student Security Operations Team member, Emily Vittitow for writing this month’s blog AND creating the Secure Sooner course.

Securing your Amazon Alexa device

When using any device connected to the internet it’s important to practice good information security hygiene. Smart home devices like the Amazon Echo Dot cannot properly function without collecting your personal data, including the acoustic profile of your voice, your spending habits, and even the contact info of your best friends.

If you’re worried about the possibility of Amazon’s Alexa secretly listening to you or making unauthorized purchases on your behalf, however unlikely that may be, here are some adjustments you can make to increase the security of your Amazon device:

  1. Disable or modify Voice Purchasing
    1. First open your Alexa app, then go to Settings > Alexa Account > Voice Purchasing and disable Voice Purchasing. If you still want to use Voice Purchasing with an added layer of security, you have the option to set and require a voice PIN to allow Voice Purchases.
  2. Remove sensitive data from Alexa’s history
    1. Instead of regularly deleting Alexa’s entire memory – which will decrease its overall performance – you can erase specific requests that contain sensitive data. You can delete voice recordings of requests one by one or all at once by opening your Alexa app and going to Settings > Alexa Account > Alexa Privacy.
  3. Know what third-party “skills” are doing with your data
    1. Amazon uses what they call “skills” to expand the capabilities of the AI assistant, Alexa. Skills are pieces of software developed by third-parties that function similarly to apps on your phone. For example, when you say, “Alexa, ask Ticketmaster to find tickets to the Orange Bowl.” Alexa will reach out to Ticketmaster, a third-party, to complete your request. It is important to know the privacy policies of these third-parties since Amazon does not prevent them from storing and even selling user data.
  4. Turn off the Echo Dot’s microphone.
    1. If you are concerned about hackers listening to you through Alexa disabling the microphone is a straightforward process. To turn the microphone off, press the microphone button on the top of the device until it turns red. Conversely, to turn the microphone on, press the same button and make sure it is no longer red.

I hope some of these tips help you breathe a little easier around your Amazon device(s).

If you’re ever concerned and unsure about the way any of your devices or internet services collect and use your data, you should feel empowered to do some digging and research of your own. Remember: Your personal information is important and worth protecting.


Alexa and Alexa Device FAQs

5 Ways to Secure Your Alexa Device

About the author: Emily Vittitow is on track to graduate in December of 2019 with her B.A. in Mathematics from OU. Her love of mysteries and technology have led her to study cybersecurity both on and off her job as a student analyst in OU’s IT Security Department. This interest in information security led her to propose the creation of Secure Sooner, OU’s first-ever cybersecurity awareness course for students. Ever since the project’s approval she’s enjoyed the challenges involved in developing the course alongside her partner, Charles Vang. Upon graduation Emily will pursue a career in cybersecurity and is especially interested in working as a Cyber Threat Intelligence Analyst.  

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