Skill squatting attacks on Amazon Alexa

Deepak Kumar, Riccardo Paccagnella, Paul Murley, Eric Hennenfent, Joshua Mason, Adam Bates, Michael Bailey

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


The proliferation of the Internet of Things has increased reliance on voice-controlled devices to perform everyday tasks. Although these devices rely on accurate speech-recognition for correct functionality, many users experience frequent misinterpretations in normal use. In this work, we conduct an empirical analysis of interpretation errors made by Amazon Alexa, the speech-recognition engine that powers the Amazon Echo family of devices. We leverage a dataset of 11,460 speech samples containing English words spoken by American speakers and identify where Alexa misinterprets the audio inputs, how often, and why. We find that certain misinterpretations appear consistently in repeated trials and are systematic. Next, we present and validate a new attack, called skill squatting. In skill squatting, an attacker leverages systematic errors to route a user to malicious application without their knowledge. In a variant of the attack we call spear skill squatting, we further demonstrate that this attack can be targeted at specific demographic groups. We conclude with a discussion of the security implications of speech interpretation errors, countermeasures, and future work.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 27th USENIX Security Symposium
PublisherUSENIX Association
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9781939133045
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018
Event27th USENIX Security Symposium - Baltimore, United States
Duration: Aug 15 2018Aug 17 2018

Publication series

NameProceedings of the 27th USENIX Security Symposium


Conference27th USENIX Security Symposium
CountryUnited States

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Information Systems
  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality

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  • Cite this

    Kumar, D., Paccagnella, R., Murley, P., Hennenfent, E., Mason, J., Bates, A., & Bailey, M. (2018). Skill squatting attacks on Amazon Alexa. In Proceedings of the 27th USENIX Security Symposium (pp. 33-47). (Proceedings of the 27th USENIX Security Symposium). USENIX Association.