While a growing number of people are using smart speakers to play music, check the weather forecast, or shop online, IT security company McAfee also wants users of Amazon's intelligent assistant Alexa to be able to manage network security in their homes.
Announced Monday at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, which runs through March 1, McAfee's Secure Home Platform "skill" (a skill in an Amazon app) for Alexa is now available for device makers that want to incorporate voice-enabled controls into their routers, gateways, and other networking devices. Customers in the U.S. will be the first to see those capabilities over the next few months, with other markets to follow.
McAfee said it's adding the Alexa-based capabilities to help people better secure their personal data as homes add more and more smart devices connected to the Internet.
Aimed at Growing Number of IoT Device Users
First launched in 2014, Alexa provides voice-enabled assistance to users with smart speakers, such as Amazon's Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Plus. Beyond Amazon, other companies offering such voice-based smart services include Google (Google Assistant on Google Home devices), Apple (Siri on Home Pod devices), and Microsoft (Cortana on Invoke speakers from Harman Kardon).
The use of home smart speakers in the U.S. grew by nearly 129 percent between 2016 and 2017, according to a May report from eMarketer. Coupled with other network-connected devices, including smart appliances, automated lights, and other systems, such as consumer-focused devices are expected to generate $62 billion in Internet-of-Things (IoT) spending globally, the analyst firm IDC reported in December.
"Consumers need to take a proactive stance to moving security beyond the endpoint and into the connected home network," John Giamatteo, executive vice president of McAfee's consumer business group, said Monday in a statement. "McAfee understands that for consumers to use security solutions, they must fit seamlessly into the way they already live their lives. With the McAfee Secure Home Platform skill for Alexa, we are giving customers the added convenience of simply managing their home's network security using their voice."
Rising Risks from Pervasive Networking
McAfee said the new Alexa skills will enable users to ask their Amazon smart speakers to check on online devices and network status, conduct network security scans, block or unblock specific devices, and control Internet access for their children's devices.
One of the networking devices that will support those new skills is D-Link's AC2600 Wi-Fi router, set to hit the market sometime during the second quarter of this year.
In a report issued last week in partnership with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, McAfee estimated that global losses from cybercrime are approaching $600 billion and said that figure is likely to keep growing as the number of IoT devices in use rises.
"We expect further growth in cybercrime as hackers take advantage of poorly protected 'Internet of things' (IoT) devices that, while themselves not particularly valuable, provide new, easy approaches to steal personal information or gain access to valuable data or networks," the cybercrime report stated. "IoT devices also allow, as we have seen, for massive denial-of-service (DoS) attacks that block services and impose costs on companies and individuals."
Cybersecurity expert Bruce Schneier, who is currently writing a book on IoT security tentatively titled, "Click Here to Kill Everybody," has consistently warned about the vulnerabilities being opened up as more devices of all kinds are connected to the network.
"Sometimes we can opt out of the IoT, but that option is becoming increasingly rare," Schneier wrote in a recent blog post. "In a few years, it's going to be nearly impossible to not be multiply connected to the IoT."