Alexa gizmo laughs randomly. Creepy.

Do you have one of those Alexa gizmos? Brrrrrrr! No thanks.


At Engadget I read:

Alexa is randomly laughing, and it’s creepy as hell (updated)
Mercifully, Amazon is fixing it.

If you have an Alexa-powered device, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was haunted: users have been complaining that their devices would laugh randomly or simply refuse to do what they were asked. Is your smart speaker going to murder you in your sleep? Thankfully, no. Amazon has confirmed that it’s aware of the problem and is “working to fix it.” The company hasn’t said what went wrong, but it’s notable that this isn’t a case of accidentally triggering the voice assistant — the laughter has kicked in without triggering the signature blue light that accompanies responses on Echo speakers and other Alexa devices.


They have a bit of an explanation.  But, brrrrrrrrr.

I am not drawing a direct line, but this reminded me of what I’ve been told by exorcists about the way demons can infest electronic tech.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Semper Gumby says:

    No doubt there are readers here more knowledgeable than myself about these gizmos with their flashing lights and diabolical laughter, but here’s a few paragraphs, some a bit dated, from zdnet, smallbiztech, and Wired magazine:

    – A vulnerability in many hotel television infrared systems can allow a hacker to obtain guests’ names and their room numbers from the billing system…He also revealed how infrared used for garage door openers and car-door locks could be hacked, using simple brute force programming techniques to decipher the code that opens the doors.

    -Researchers have devised numerous ways to extract data from computer systems by developing covert channels. These channels fall into four general groups:

    Electromagnetic (the earliest attack vector)
    Acoustic (beyond speakers, modulated fan and disk drive noise can be used)
    Thermal (very low speeds possible)
    Optical (a hot area, where speeds up to 4k bps have been demonstrated)

    -A more recent focus has been optical transmission. With the advent of widespread – and easily hacked — surveillance cameras, the ubiquitous LEDs on almost every system can transmit significant amounts of data.

    -The human eye has a hard time detecting flickers much above 60Hz, so human users won’t know if an LED is being used covertly or not. Of course, many consumer devices, such as the new iPhone X, are equipped with infrared (IR) LEDs that are designed to transmit or receive data invisibly.

    Many network devices use LEDs to indicate data activity, which, with a large enough sample, can indicate the traffic passing through them. If the device can be hacked — and what isn’t, these days? — the LEDs can transmit much more specific data.

    Storage drive activity LEDs have demonstrated transmission speeds up to 4k bps using surveillance cameras as optical receivers. This is fast enough to handle encryption keys, keystroke logging, and text and binary files.

    Drive lights flicker in operation normally, so users are unlikely to notice any additional flickering during data transmission.

    -In a recent paper, Exfiltration of Data from Air-gapped Networks via Unmodulated LED Status Indicators researchers Zhou et al., demonstrated that ordinary keyboard LEDs — such cap and num locks — can be used to exfiltrate data using IP cameras, without users being any the wiser.

    -While traveling to a job site a LIGATT security team member was finishing a presentation on a flight and all of a sudden an icon popped up which notified her that she was attached to another person’s computer via the infrared port. “Sure enough, the person sitting in the aisle next to me was on his laptop. Another few minutes passed and his head popped up and he started glancing around — he had also just realized that our computers were now connected and communicating,” says LIGATT security team member Merike Kaeo.

    -As a method of research LIGATT security team members walked into a Borders bookstore where students were studying and placed our PDA next to a laptop with infrared port. We wrote a script that would copy all of the files from the “My Documents” folder. Our PDA running Windows CE connected to the infrared port and began copying the files.
    After a period of time we were able to gain entry into two out of ten computers and started copying files.”

    Well ain’t that a fine kettle of fish. I think I’ll stick mostly to pen and paper. And the only high-tech gear I’ll have in my country bunker is a Victrola for Mozart and Gregorian chant. Er, and a contraption that dispenses, depending on the situation, beef jerky, ammunition, or Holy Water.

  2. The Masked Chicken says:

    Since I happen to be an expert on laughter, this is timely. I am just finishing a paper on a mathematical model of laughter in crowds. The model covers both human and AI laughter. This is nothing. A ring of 100 laughing networked robots can synchronize 180 degrees out of phase, so the odd robots laugh, then the even, so the laughter gets pushed down the ring like a spooky wave of laughter. I’ve even got animation.

    Human laughter isn’t nearly so coupled.

    The Chicken

  3. Kathleen10 says:

    I resist this stuff and my family laughs at me. I wouldn’t have Alexa or any of those devices, ugh. My phone is a military style flip up. It makes calls.
    A simple life is better. I’m with Semper Gumby.

  4. JamesA says:

    Fr. Z is conducting the Rite of Exorcism on Alexa.
    (In Latin, of course :)
    “By the Power of the Holy Name of Jesus, I compel you to answer ! By what name are you known ?!”
    *random, diabolical laughter*
    “I am called ‘Hillary’ !”

  5. Colm says:

    “I am not drawing a direct line, but this reminded me of what I’ve been told by exorcists about the way demons can infest electronic tech.”

    Can you elaborate on this, Father? You’ve got me wanting to dunk all of my devices in holy water (’62 proof, of course).

  6. Semper Gumby says:

    Great comments. Those “military flip-up phones” are handy. As for “a ring of 100 laughing networked robots” that would make a great burglar alarm and cause any hooligan to seek shelter immediately.

    If that “Internet of Things” takes off and our refrigerators start scheming with our ovens, then it might be time to cook the porridge in the fireplace and dig a root cellar in the basement.

    The canary in the coalmine here could be opening the front door to see the vacuum cleaner chasing Fido, and Fr. Spadaro’s tweets scrolling endlessly across the microwave’s LED display.

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