I’ve got a couple of things I wanted to talk about in this week’s email. One of them got me frustrated and it could happen to you too – but first…
A word of warning from security experts about smart speakers
I try to keep on top of the technology news – in particular, anything about security. Most of the time, there’s nothing much to report (you’ll be pleased to hear), but this week I was glad I do check it, because there was something important…
Smart speakers like the Amazon Echo and Google Home are great bits of kit. You can just talk to them, and they do things for you – like play music, do an internet search, add something to your shopping list or put an appointment in your calendar. But if you don’t have one (and don’t plan to get one any time soon) you can skip this first bit down to where it says “What to do if”…
You work these smart speakers by saying things like, “Alexa, play Sunny Afternoon by the Kinks”, or “OK Google, what sound does an elephant make?” and it’ll start playing the song or making the noise or whatever you’ve asked it to do… hopefully not both at once.
So far so good. All that comes built in to your speaker – all you have to do is connect it to your wifi and sign in to your Amazon or Google account.
The bit that’s made some security types nervous, though, is that you can now get separate apps that you add to your speaker for doing various things – like reading you a horoscope or even playing a game. And these “third party” apps just aren’t as secure at the moment as the built-in services.
A German security firm called SRL managed to make apps that could eavesdrop on conversations even when people thought they were turned off. And others that could ask for people’s passwords in a pretty convincing way (called “vishing” or “voice phishing”). If you’re interested in the details, you can read more about it here.
Both Amazon and Google have thanked SRL and found ways to stop those same security issues happening again, but with new technology like this, it’ll be a while before all the holes have been spotted and patched up.
My advice would be to stick to using the built-in features – or only use apps from very well-known, trustworthy names – for now at least.
What to do if quote marks turn into @s and vice versa
I was working on a book the other day (it’s very nearly finished, but I’ll tell you more about it next week – don’t want to tempt fate) and something peculiar happened to my keyboard. I went to type a quote mark by holding shift and pressing the number 2, but it came out as a @ symbol.
Luckily I knew what was going on and that it was my own cack-handedness to blame. You see, I’d switched the language of my keyboard from UK English to US English by accident (keyboards are laid out slightly differently in America). And I reckon I’d done it by pressing the Alt key and the Shift key at the same time. If it ever happens to you, you switch back to the UK English keyboard in exactly the same way. Just press Alt and Shift at the same time and then let go of both keys.
And that’s it. Job’s a good-un. You can go back to typing £s and “s and so on with no problem again.