Cybercriminals Spreading Node.js Trojan Promising Relief from the Outbreak of COVID-19 – Disposable mail news

A java downloader going by the extension “Company PLP_Tax relief due to Covid-19 outbreak CI+PL.jar” has been recently detected. Drawing inferences from its name, researchers suspected it to be associated with COVID-19 themed phishing attacks.

Running this file led to the download of an undetected malware sample that is written in Node.js; Node.js is an open-source, cross-platform, Javascript runtime environment that executes Javascript code outside of a browser and as it is primarily designed for web server development, there’s a very less probability of it being already installed onto systems.

The trojan that is suspected of employing the unconventional platform for bypassing detection has been labeled as ‘QNodeService’. The malware has been designed to perform a number of malicious functions including uploading, downloading, and executing files.

It is also configured to steal credentials stored in web browsers and perform
file management etc. Currently, the malware appears to be targeting Windows systems only, however, the code signifies a potential for ‘cross-platform compatibility’, researchers concluded a possibility of the same being a ‘future goal’ for cybercriminals.

Cybercriminals are devising new methods all
the time to design malware such as trojans to infect as many machines as possible without getting noticed.

To stay on a safer side, users are recommended to block malware from acquiring access via all the possible doorways like endpoints, networks, and emails.


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Digital transformation could be accelerated by COVID‑19 – 10 minute mail

The pandemic has highlighted the need for businesses to act with alacrity and prepare for the long haul – and to do so with cybersecurity in mind

The technology industry abounds with buzzwords and phrases, with digital transformation being one such term that many companies aspire to undertake; but when faced with reality it can be difficult to implement while conducting business as usual. There are, however, impressive examples where companies have changed course and transformed their businesses by integrating digital technology to fundamentally change how they operate and how they deliver value to customers.

Microsoft is a case in point. Under the leadership of Satya Nadella, the stock price – which had flatlined for nearly a decade – has tripled. Creating a collaborative working environment and focusing on the future and innovation, Nadella changed Microsoft’s fortunes from a ’90s technology company delivering similar products, to once more becoming a leading-edge organization delivering visionary products. Changing the culture of a company with over 120,000 employees at the time he took charge was no mean feat.

Transforming a business in this way is not simple and takes a tremendous amount of courage and visionary leadership. The core elements include: migrating from on-premises systems to hybrid clouds, modernizing financial and operational software, improving the customer experience using technology, and creating a more dynamic and flexible working environment. In response to ‘work from home’ and other lockdown measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses have adopted some of these elements, using technology out of necessity; this departure from normal business may be the first significant step on the path to digital transformation.

When governments decide to end their lockdowns, will these businesses embrace the opportunity and continue digital transformation, or revert to the previous way of conducting business?

Enter cybersecurity

Digital transformation brings about additional considerations for cybersecurity and I recently delivered a presentation, virtually, at Segurinfo in Argentina on both the need to grasp the opportunity to transform and to do it with security in mind. Businesses all over the world have adapted their workforces during the current pandemic by embracing technology to provide connectivity to data and networks, videoconferencing, collaboration tools and cloud services. Prior to the lockdown, 16% of Argentinian workers infrequently worked from home – with under 3% doing so permanently, according to data from iProUP. In comparison, the numbers for the USA are 43% and 3.6%, respectively. While the proportion permanently working from home is similar, the ability of the general workforce to be flexible is clearly apparent and demonstrates that digital transformation has evolved further in the USA than in Argentina.

RELATED READING: Cybersecurity Trends 2020: Technology is getting smarter – are we?

While allowing the workforce to be flexible is only a small part of digital transformation, it carries with it the need to ensure that services are implemented securely. Devices need to be protected from many types of risks, including: theft and interference by using full disk encryption, strong multi-factor authentication, and the use of VPN technology to access data are just bare minimum considerations. Applications and tools to enable remote productivity need to be vetted and configured to protect customer data and sensitive company material, and employees need to be more aware of scams such as phishing and business email compromise, as these may be more exploitable among staff away from the workplace.

There are, of course, many more considerations to ensure that systems remain secure regardless of the location of the user. The rushed adaptation to relocate the workforce means that companies have expanded or implemented new systems to enable remote working and the ability to service customers remotely, without necessarily applying their normal considerations for security. The easy option, when all this is over, is to revert to the original scenario and talk fondly of the memories of the time we all needed to work from home. In reality, the decisions taken due to the pandemic have progressed the digital transformation of businesses all over the world, so rather than reverting to the previous status quo, perhaps they should embrace the changes of delivering services to customers and flexibility to the workforce.

Take an example of a small local business, a successful fitness studio providing group classes and personal training. The business was forced to cease in-person activities due to a ‘shelter in place’ order and needed to look for alternate methods of delivering services to customers to keep the business running. An entrepreneurial spirit quickly transformed the business from in-person to online classes for both one-to-one and group sessions. This also involved temporarily loaning and distributing equipment to customers so they could experience the same class as before, just in their home location.

Seizing the opportunity

What happens when there is a chance to switch back to in-person classes and for the equipment to be returned to the studio? It’s at this precise point where the opportunity exists – why revert to the previous method of doing business? The easy solution is to do business just as before the ‘shelter in place’ order; however, there is a tipping-point opportunity to deliver a mix of online and in-person classes and training. This also has the benefit that when customers travel or cannot attend a training session in person, it can be offered to them online – even asynchronously – so they never miss a week regardless of their schedules. The temporary solutions implemented to deliver online classes will need to be formalized for more scalable and robust systems.

The issue of equipment return could create an entirely new business opportunity to rent the equipment to the customer, who retains it for the duration of the online class. The business will need new systems to manage equipment leasing, which may involve credit scoring and long-term subscription payments. Examples of companies that have successfully transformed their businesses often have a common offering – subscription – this enables businesses to predict their revenue and to make longer-term decisions on investments.

The situation caused by the pandemic has forced short-term adaptation but should be viewed as a step, or leap, towards digital transformation, offering more flexibility to customers and employees and potentially opening new revenue opportunities.

ESET has been here for you for over 30 years. We want to assure you that we will be here in order to protect your online activities during these uncertain times, too.
Protect yourself from threats to your security online with an extended trial of our award-winning software.
Try our extended 90-day trial for free.



Tony Anscombe


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The Dreambot Malware Botnet Appears To Have Gone Silent and Possibly Shut Down – Disposable mail news

Dreambot’s backend servers as per a report published by the CSIS Security Group, a cyber-security firm situated in Copenhagen, seem to have gone quiet and potentially shut down completely.

It started in March around the same time when the cybersecurity community likewise stopped seeing the new Dreambot samples disseminated in the wild. 

Benoit Ancel, the malware analyst at the CSIS Security Group, says, “The lack of new features? The multiplication of new Gozi variants? The huge rise of Zloader? COVID-19? We can’t be sure exactly what was the cause of death, but more and more indicators point at the end of Dreambot.” 

The Dreambot malware’s apparent demise put an end to a six-year-old “career” on the cybercrime landscape. First spotted in 2014, it was created on the leaked source code of the more seasoned Gozi ISFB banking trojan, one of the most reused bits of malware today. 

With time, Dreambot received new highlights, like the Tor-hosted command and control servers, a keylogging capacity, the capacity to steal browser cookies and information from email clients, a screenshot feature, the capacity to record a victim’s screen, a bootkit module, and a VNC remote access feature – just to name the most significant.

Typical Dreambot Control Panel

Besides, Dreambot likewise evolved from a private malware botnet into what’s known as a Cybercrime-as-a-Service (CaaS). 

 As a CaaS, the Dreambot creators would publicize access to their botnet on hacking and malware forums. Various crooks could gain access to a part of Dreambot’s infrastructure and an adaptation of the Dreambot malware, which they’d be answerable for distributing to victims. 

Dreambot “customers” would infect victims, steal funds, and pay the Dreambot gang a week after week, month to month, or at a yearly expense.

CSIS says this model seems to have been fruitful. “We counted more than a million [Dreambot] infections worldwide just for 2019,” Ancel said. 

In any case, the CSIS researcher additionally said that as of late, Dreambot developed from being only a banking trojan. All the more explicitly, it evolved from a specific banking trojan into a generic trojan. 

Criminals would lease access to the Dreambot cybercrime machine, yet not use it to steal money from bank accounts. Instead, they’d taint countless computers, and afterward review each target, searching for explicit computers. 

Nonetheless, Dreambot operators have not been ‘publicly identified’ and stay on the loose. The explanation behind this whole cybercrime platform’s current disappearance likewise stays a mystery.

Be that as it may, with the operators everywhere, Dreambot’s return ‘remains a possibility’.


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It’s no time to let your guard down as coronavirus fraud remains a threat – 10 minute mail

Scammers rehash old campaigns, create credit card-stealing websites and repurpose information channels to milk the COVID-19 crisis for all it’s worth

Another week of the COVID-19 pandemic is almost behind us, with countries charting out paths to recovery and in many cases moving to shake off some of the lockdown restrictions.

Meanwhile, the crisis has brought out the worst in con artists, who have been exploiting every trick in their playbooks of scams to defraud people. Indeed, for weeks they have been hard at work impersonating legitimate sources of information on the pandemic and launching new fraudulent online marketplaces offering deals on products that are in short supply, such as respirators and hand sanitizers.

In part four of our series on COVID-19-related scams, we share a few examples of recent campaigns targeting your money and personal data. More examples of scams that seize on concerns surrounding the pandemic are available in these three articles.

Mapping out a scam

The most popular COVID-19 map was developed at the Johns Hopkins University by Professor Lauren Gardner, a civil and systems engineering professor, and her graduate student Ensheng Dong. It allows researchers, public health authorities and the public to track the pandemic’s progression and provides useful statistics. Since everyone is trying to be up to date on the latest developments, that makes the organization an ideal target for scammers to impersonate.

In the example below, you can see an example of a fraudulent map impersonating the Johns Hopkins map, with some extra features such as pop-up ads and a chat window. If you click on any part of the map, it will try to redirect you to a phishing website, which will try to scam you out of your personal data or attempt to steal your login credentials or even download malware to your computer.

WHO let the app out?

As individuals struggle to remain on top of the influx of daily information, they usually rely on the media and their local and international health authorities. The World Health Organization (WHO) remains one of the best and foremost sources of information on the COVID-19 pandemic, and so it probably comes as no surprise that it is one of the authorities most impersonated by fraudsters.

In recent campaigns, scammers have pretended to be WHO officials, while emailing victims with bogus information. These emails included either a link or an attachment, which then lead to malware making its way to your computer. But now the bad actors have upped their game by creating a website impersonating the WHO, as demonstrated in the example below.

The website tries to trick the victims into downloading a fraudulent application claiming to have COVID-19 information and instructions. Once they click on the download button, it instead downloads malware to the computer. Depending on the victim computer’s location, and other factors, different payloads, varying from information stealers to ransomware, are downloaded to the computer,

A fake one-stop-shop for your pandemic needs

Due to a shortage of personal protective equipment and hygienic products such as hand sanitizers, fake online stores have proven to be a popular way for scammers to defraud victims. Especially face masks are the search term du jour.

In fact, they are so popular that in the next example the scammers are offering them on a website that sells smartphones and apparel as well – a one-stop-shop for all your quarantine needs. As many of these online shops are clearly fake, it seems likely that your credit card data will be siphoned off if you attempt to go through with purchases on these sites, especially if the prices seem unusually good.

Philanthropic spirit of sharing the wealth

Another scam that has remained popular with fraudsters is preying on people who have fallen into financial difficulties or can be cajoled into thinking that they can make easy money. In the example below, someone posing as a wealthy businessman claims to be diagnosed with COVID-19 and, in an attempt to redeem his soul, wants to share his vast wealth with charity organizations. He just needs your help to do it and for that, he will pay handsomely. Although the request sounds charitable, it is a scam. Once the victim engages in communication, the scammer will try to bilk the victim out of increasingly greater amounts of money with false claims of fees, unforeseen costs and bribes needed to finally release the ensuing fortune.

It is safe to say no businessman worth his salt would be careless enough to rely on the goodwill of strangers to access their wealth.

Beyond the subject line

Dating and romance scams are quite widespread and have defrauded victims out of millions of dollars over the years. In the example below aimed at German speakers, the scammers apparently thought the phrase “sex sells” applies to a pandemic as well, even if many countries are advising social and physical distancing and limiting travel. The email itself offers access to a dating service that apparently doesn’t concern itself with the age of the customer, which should already be cause for alarm.

The body of the message translates as follows: “It doesn’t matter how old you are. Our hookup dating site has been created so that you can communicate anonymously with various girls. Have sex now. The girls themselves get in touch first and want sex. We guarantee the protection of your personal data. Here is this site: HappySweetDating. Click and go through the quick registration process.”

Astonishingly enough, the only link to the pandemic is the subject of the email that states “stop the spread of COVID-1 (sic)”, which makes no sense since it goes against the advice and directives of governments worldwide to limit physical interaction.

In conclusion

These are by far not all of the tricks scammers have hidden up their sleeves, but it goes to show how low they’ll sink by playing on the confusion and fears surrounding the crisis.

So, it’s best to remain alert and keep out of harm’s way, both in real life and on the internet. Here are some pointers that should help you stay safe:

  • Do not click on any link nor download any files in an email if you cannot verify the source independently. And even if the email comes from a source you trust, doublecheck with them if they really sent it. Don’t forget to scan the attachment with an endpoint software to see if it’s safe to open
  • If you want to have up-to-date information, rely on trusted sources like the official websites of health organizations or the news. Visit only reputable sites like WHO (who.int) and Johns Hopkins (https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html). Due to high demand, load times may be slow. It’s worth the wait
  • Scrutinize offers that seem too good to be true or suspicious, and never purchase anything from an unverified vendor. If you’re in doubt, even in the slightest, do not purchase anything from the vendor under any circumstances. Neither click on links nor open attachments for that matter. Always look for reviews about the vendor and evaluate them
  • Don’t reply to unsolicited emails from strangers and especially if they ask you to provide any kind of personal information
  • Always use a reputable security endpoint solution that can protect you from malware, phishing and other kinds of cyberthreats

Related reading

Beware scams exploiting coronavirus fears
Coronavirus con artists continue to spread infections of their own
Scams, lies, and coronavirus

ESET has been here for you for over 30 years. We want to assure you that we will be here in order to protect your online activities during these uncertain times, too.
Protect yourself from threats to your security online with an extended trial of our award-winning software.
Try our extended 90-day trial for free.



Amer Owaida


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The UK Government Vs Apple & Google API on the New COVID-19 App That Tells Who Near You is Infected! – Disposable mail news

Reportedly, the United Kingdom declared that their coronavirus tracing application is being run via centralized British servers and that’s how they are planning to take things forward and not via the usual “Apple-Google approach” which is a preferred one for most.

Per sources, the CEO of the Tech unit of the National Health Service mentioned that their new smartphone app will have its launching in the upcoming weeks, with the hopes of helping the country return to normalcy by beating coronavirus.

According to reports, the UK government believes that the contact-tracing protocol created by Apple and Google protects user privacy “under advertisement only”. Hence the British health service supports a system that would send the data of who may have the virus to a centralized server giving all the controls in the hand of the NHS.

The way of the NHS and that of Apple and Google, work via Bluetooth by putting a cell-phone on the wireless network, having it emit an electronic ID that could be intercepted by other phones in the vicinity. If a person tests positive for COVID-19 their ID would be used to warn the others near them.

Meaning, if you were near an affected person, your phone would show flags about their being infected, you’d be notified about it and if you may have caught the novel coronavirus you’d be alerted about that too, mention sources.

Per reports, Google and Apple especially had created an opt-in pro-privacy API for Android and iOS. The feature allows the user’s phone to change its ID on other phones near them and store it across different intervals of time.

Per sources, if a person is discovered to have COVID-19 they can allow the release of their phone’s ID to a decentralized set of databases looked over by healthcare providers and the nearby users would be notified about it.

The above-mentioned approach works best to help ensure that the users aren’t tracked by exploiting the above information. Google and Apple say that their protocol would make it next to impossible for them, the governments, and mal-actors to track people. The data wouldn’t leave the user’s phone unless they want it to, that too anonymously if and when.

A person, to declare themselves infected must enter a specific code from a healthcare provider after being tested positive which is a great way to curb fraudulent announcements about being infected.

The NHS, on the other hand, thought of proposing a centralized approach that makes the government, the party that has the coronavirus related details of all the users on their database for further analysis.

Per sources, for this application to be successful 60% of a population would have to download it and opt for it. Trust plays a major role here, if the users don’t trust the app it would be of no use to others either.

Reports mention that most countries prefer the Google and Apple method better, including Switzerland, Austria, and Estonia. Germany too is in strong support of a decentralized line whereas France had to face criticism for its inclination towards the centralized approach.

Nevertheless, the NHS is hell-bent on going forward with the centralized approach and is adamant that it will safeguard the privacy of people no matter what. In the centralized way of things, the NHS would capture all the IDs of phones with the app active on them and store the details on their database. Later on, if a user is found to be infected the NHS would make the call about all the hows, whens, and ifs of the warning procedure on the other phones.

If things were to work out the way NHS wants it to, the application would advise users to take steps to help them save themselves against the virus, like self-isolating if need be. The advice notified would be customized per the situation. They would also build a better database and help people with first-hand updates. People could also voluntarily provide detailed information about themselves to make the app’s experience more comprehensive.

Moreover, the centralized system would be way easier for conducting audits and analysis of the data that has been stored in the databases for further research about users that are at most risk.

But regardless of all the superficial advantages, the NHS would still be creating a database bursting with people’s personal information like their health statuses, their movements, and that too with the government having complete control of it.

The success of the entire operation dwells on the people’s trust in the NHS, the UK government, and the governments of all the countries for that matter who have opted for the centralized system.


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Residents in China under Surveillance amid the Coronavirus Pandemic – Disposable mail news


According to recent reports, China is alleged for surveilling its residents’ homes among the coronavirus epidemic. However, there is no official rule that says China can keep quarantined residents under watch. The incident has been happening since February in China, where few residents have reported cases of security camera equipped right in front of their homes. Three people have already informed of this incident, whereas other similar cases have appeared on social media.

Currently, China doesn’t have any national law that allows it to watch its people through surveillance cameras, but still, the cameras are equipped in various public areas in China. According to sources, the authorities are continually keeping a watch on people, whether they are in malls, eating in a restaurant, boarding transport, or even in schools and colleges.
According to data by CNN, around 20 Million cameras were installed across china in the year 2020, and this is only a rough estimate. According to some other sources, the numbers can go even higher. As per the reports of IHS Markit Technology, which currently works under Informa Tech, China had around 350 Million surveillance cameras installed in the year 2018, which is five times than of the USA.


What will happen by 2021? 

According to the data, the projection suggests that by the year 2021, China will have equipped six times more surveillance cameras than the US.
According to Comparitech, a UK based research organization, “Estimates vary on the number of CCTV cameras in China, but reports range from 200 million up to 626 million in use by 2020. Based on the country’s current population of 1.4 billion people, that would mean nearly one camera for every two people. Although this projection might seem vast, it may be a fraction of the actual number.”

In the present times, however, the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered the Chinese authorities to keep a watch on its residents’ private life. According to these residents, it is a complete breach of privacy. Knowing that this issue might appear, the Joint Civil Society issued a statement earlier this month that said, “the COVID-19 pandemic is a global public health emergency that requires a coordinated and large-scale response by governments worldwide. However, States’ efforts to contain the virus must not be used as a cover to usher in a new era of greatly expanded systems of invasive digital surveillance.”


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Around 25,000 Email Addresses and Passwords Belonging to NIH, WHO, World Bank and Others Posted online – Disposable mail news

The SITE Intelligence Group, a non-governmental US-based consultancy group that monitors online activities of international terrorist groups and tracks global extremism, recently discovered around 25,000 email addresses and passwords being posted online by unidentified activists. Reportedly, these credentials belong to the World Health Organisation, National Institutes of Health, the Gates Foundation, and various other organizations united in the global battle against COVID-19 – working to contain the spread of the Coronavirus.

The data of unidentified origins was exposed on Sunday and Monday and straight away used by cybercriminals to make attempts at hacking and take advantage of the posted information by causing incidents of harassment led by far-right extremists.
The information made its first appearance on 4chan, an imageboard website where people anonymously post their opinions on subjects ranging from politics, anime, music, video games to sports and literature. It then subsequently appeared on Pastebin, Twitter, and Telegram groups belonging to far-right extremists.

However, the authenticity of the email addresses and passwords is still in question as the SITE said it was unable to verify the data. As per Robert Potter, an Australian cybersecurity expert, the 2,732 emails and passwords belonging to WHO were found to be authentic.

The biggest victim of the incident was NIH with a total of 9,938 emails and passwords being exposed, following NIH was the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with the second largest number i.e., 6,857 and the World Bank with a total of 5,120, according to the report by SITE. All three organizations were quick to decline the requests of making any comment on the matter.

While providing insights, SITE’s executive director, Rita Katz said, “Neo-Nazis and white supremacists capitalized on the lists and published them aggressively across their venues.”

“Using the data, far-right extremists were calling for a harassment campaign while sharing conspiracy theories about the coronavirus pandemic. The distribution of these alleged email credentials was just another part of a months-long initiative across the far right to weaponize the covid-19 pandemic.” She further added.

Meanwhile giving assurance, Twitter spokeswoman Katie Rosborough said, “We’re aware of this account activity and are taking widespread enforcement action under our rules, specifically our policy on private information. We’re also taking bulk removal action on the URL that links to the site in question.”


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Facebook Makes Its Largest Bet on the Developing Market; Invests $5.7 Billion in Indian Internet Giant Jio – Disposable mail news

“The country is in the middle of a major digital transformation, and organizations like Jio have played a big part in getting hundreds of millions of Indian people and small businesses online. With communities around the world in lockdown, many of these entrepreneurs need digital tools they can rely on to find and communicate with customers and grow their businesses.”

This is what Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, said in a post to his Facebook page on the occasion of the social media giant making its biggest single investment by putting $5.7 billion into Jio Platforms of India on Tuesday.

Adding later on that the move indicates its ‘commitment’ to India, as approximately more than 388 million people in India have been in a solid connection with the internet service over the past four years via Jio.

While numerous businesses have been harmed by the aftermath from the Covid-19 pandemic, huge technology companies are positioned to profit over the long haul as more people resort to their services while keeping indoors.

Facebook is thusly making preparations to move ahead with vital and strategic investments at a very ‘fragile’ time in the global economy.

David Fischer, Facebook’s chief revenue official, and Ajit Mohan, Facebook’s managing director in India, in a blog-entry by-lined by the former said that “One focus of our collaboration with Jio will be creating new ways for people and businesses to operate more effectively in the growing digital economy. For instance, by bringing together JioMart, Jio’s small business initiative, with the power of WhatsApp, we can enable people to connect with businesses, shop, and ultimately purchase products in a seamless mobile experience.”

With more than 400 million Indian citizens utilizing WhatsApp and more than 300 million people utilizing the company’s core social network, therefore Facebook sees a lot of chance with Jio.

Apart from this, last week India’s Economic Times revealed that Facebook and Reliance were intending to use WhatsApp and Jio administrations to make a WeChat-style “super-app” for India.

Tencent’s WeChat has enormous penetration in China, with in excess of a billion users and numerous independent businesses utilizing it for payments, promotion, and communication.

Yet, it is to be noticed this isn’t Facebook’s first swoop into the Indian market.

Quite a long while ago, it attempted to offer free internet connectivity to Indian users in a program called Free Basics. Yet, that initiative hit a lot of obstacles until it was ultimately banned in the nation by the telecom regulator TRAI, in 2016.

What’s more, is that the regulators concluded that businesses couldn’t offer free internet services that supported only a few companies over the others.

Facebook has been at a disagreement with the Indian government over WhatsApp for quite some time recently.

The government had demanded that WhatsApp change its encryption to trace messages back to their source, which WhatsApp refused to comply with. Simultaneously, regulators have over and over again thwarted WhatsApp’s request to offer a payments service to its Indian users.

Here are some of the reaction tweets by people on the Jio-Facebook collab.


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Work from home: Should your digital assistant be on or off? – 10 minute mail

Being at your beck and call is central to the “personality” of your digital friend, but there are situations when the device could use some time off

Do you start the day with “Alexa, what’s the weather today?”

Many of you may have a digital friend at home, an Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple’s Siri or Microsoft Cortana (does anyone actually use this?). Has your digital friend ever interrupted your conversation or randomly spoken up despite not being hailed? The answer is likely to be yes, and your response has probably been just to dismiss the interruption as unwanted.

Just say the word(s)

A recent study by Imperial College London and Northeastern University examined how many times digital assistants activate without the wake-up word being used. The devices were subjected to 125 hours of Netflix content from numerous shows; the verbal content was analyzed with the closed caption text from the show to remove the instances when an actor may have used the actual wake-up word. The devices wrongly interpreted a word and activated up to 19 times per day.

The experiment was repeated 12 times with the same content and the result showed little to no consistency, less than 9% of all the “misheard” dialog that activated a device did so in 75% or more of the replication runs. Some devices activated on word patterns or specific letter sounds – for example, Alexa activated on words that contain a “k” and sound similar to Alexa, such as “exclamation” or “Kevin’s car”. Not being able to replicate the test result consistently suggests that there is a level of randomness to the unwanted activations. So, don’t take it personally the next time your digital assistant interrupts.

When the digital assistant is awoken and springs into life, the interaction is captured so it can be analyzed and the instruction, if there is one, is acted upon. Some of the systems retain a voice recording or a text transcript of the interaction either until you decide to delete it or the vendor’s policy removes it, based on time or other criteria.

At the moment of an unexpected activation, or if you don’t want any other activation stored, then each assistant has the ability to delete the last interaction. For example, if during a TV show the device mistakenly awakens, a response from you of “Alexa – delete what I just said” will remove the last interaction. For the more privacy conscious then, an “Alexa – delete everything I said today” might be part of the good night routine.

RELATED READING: Privacy by Design: Can you create a safe smart home?

If you have introduced the digital assistant to additional digital friends, such as a home automation system, then the interaction is analyzed and the instruction or request is transferred to the third party. What data is being shared with the third party will depend on the functionality of the additional services or devices.

Your digital friend is listening constantly, is activated on demand or randomly and is potentially storing the interaction forever. And in some circumstances, maybe chatting with other digital friends to fulfill your requests. If only human friends were that attentive.

So, how does this relate to working from home?

Hopefully, you have adopted a routine and start work at a regular time and maybe even kick-off with a team call to sync with colleagues. I suspect that, like me, you then have a varied set of calls and video meetings throughout the day; some more sensitive than others. If you work in a collaborative open office space in normal circumstances, then you probably utilize a private space to participate in the more sensitive or confidential calls to avoid any inadvertent sharing of information.

But what if you’re working from home and know that the digital assistant is constantly listening, is extremely attentive, and is not an employee of the company bound by any confidentiality agreement? Then additional caution beyond what you practice in the office should be applied.

When conducting a sensitive call while working from home, switch off the digital assistant’s microphone and camera to avoid potentially sharing sensitive material. If you find it difficult to adopt an “as needed” approach to switching the digital friend off, I recommend giving your digital assistant the day off while you work.

The risk is not only from oversharing with your digital assistant’s vendor; there is also a risk that a bad actor could gain access to your account or, worse still, inflict a data breach on the vendor and have access to all previous interactions.

This could have been a short article, unplug the digital assistant, open the front door and throw it in the street, but I know my own paranoia will probably not resonate with that many of you.

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Tony Anscombe


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