Seen At 11: Is Your Virtual Assistant Letting Hackers Spy On You At Home?

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Virtual assistants do a lot to help around the house, but they may be doing a little spying too.

That could mean that others are listening in on your every move.

“I heard her screaming, ‘What the heck is going on?’ She sounded terrified, as though someone was in her house,” Thomas McKay said.

No one was in her house, but Thomas McKay and his father were actually listening in on their friend, startling her inside of her own home miles away, using the family’s Amazon Echo.

“For a couple seconds we didn’t say anything, so we were just listening to her talk,” Cameron McKay said.

It’s called drop-in and offers instant communication between Echo devices. You don’t need to make a call, you just drop in.

CBS2 set up a test to see how it works.

A users phone number is used to locate their Echo in a home miles away, and then a request is sent through the Alexa app.

If they accept, you can hear everything going on in a living room some 100 miles away.

The only alert that you’ve received a drop-in is a beep and a green lighted rim around the top of the device.

“You could be looking the other way, and you might not notice or hear,” tech security expert, Hemu Nigam said.

The person does have to say ‘yes’ to agree to allow a person to drop-in, but Nigam cautioned that like all internet devices Alexa is susceptible to hackers.

“If a hacker takes control of your device, they can in essence do anything you can do,” Nigam said.

That includes dropping in on your family and friends. When you log into your Alexa app anyone in your phone’s contact list will show up if they have an Echo.

Amazon defends the drop-in feature, and pointed out that it’s automatically disabled on your Echo until you turn it on. Users can mute drop-in by asking Alexa to turn on ‘do not disturb’ and both parties must consent to using drop-in.

“Always be conscious that you are living in a connected house when you get one of these devices,” Nigam said.

As for the hacking potential, Amazon said they have taken measures to make Echo secure.

This site uses cookies, tokens, and other third party scripts to recognize visitors of our sites and services, remember your settings and privacy choices, and — depending on your settings and privacy choices — enable us and some key partners to collect information about you so that we can improve our services and deliver relevant ads.

By continuing to use our site or clicking Agree, you agree that CBS and our key partners may collect data and use cookies for personalized ads and other purposes, as described more fully in our privacy policy. You can change your settings at any time by clicking Manage Settings.