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A new Moen Alexa-enabled shower displayed at the CES conference in January. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Researchers at the security firm CheckMarx discovered a security flaw in Amazon's Alexa voice enabled digital personal assistant that could have been used to eavesdrop and transcribe any ambient conversation.

But, there are caveats: The flaw requires a user to not only install, but also run a malicious app on Alexa, and not notice Alexa's trademark blue light never turns off. Amazon has now released a patch, meaning it is not an issue for up-to-date Alexa systems.

The details: Alexa lets users install new processes, known as skills. If a criminal developed a skill with some malicious code, CheckMarx discovered some ways to circumvent Amazon's system designed to prevent eavesdropping.

  • Alexa requires apps to periodically alert users it is still listening. But CheckMarx found a way to avoid that safeguard, known as "reprompt." Developers are allowed to set the reprompt message, including a message with no text.
  • Alexa only makes it difficult to transcribe text without specifying the number of words it records. CheckMarx dodged this by telling it to listen for one word sentences, two word sentences and so on and so forth all the way up to needlessly long strings of words.

Go deeper

Report: U.S. Latinos near 50% homeownership rate

Real estate broker Alex Betances sits in front of a home in Reading, Pa. Photo: Ryan McFadden/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Image

Latinos increased their homeownership rate to nearly 50% in 2020, according to a report from a group monitoring U.S. Hispanic wealth creation.

Why it matters: The Hispanic Wealth Project found that the homeownership rate grew despite the lack of diversified financial assets among Latinos and around 15% who still live below the federal poverty line ($26,500 for a family of four).

Updated 9 mins ago - World

Mapping repression in China's Xinjiang region

Data: © Mapbox, © OpenStreetMap; Map: Will Chase/Axios

A sweeping new report released today by an Australian research organization reveals new details about how the Chinese Communist Party — and specifically who within the party — is carrying out its campaign of repression in Xinjiang.

Why it matters: Uncovering the actual offices and individuals implementing the Chinese government's genocide and forced labor policies in Xinjiang can bring accountability and help international companies delink supply chains in compliance with U.S. and EU forced labor laws.

Updated 27 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Celebrities are America's new politicians

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Launching gubernatorial bids, making presidential endorsements, founding schools: Celebrities are getting increasingly involved in U.S. public and political life.

Why it matters: As we've reported, politics is no longer just the purview of career politicians, as companies and their CEOs throw their weight around to affect policies. Now, movie stars, famous musicians and professional athletes also are using their influence in politics.