Have you ever noticed someone talking into their Smartphone, asking a specific question?  Or have you witnessed a Smartphone talking its owner, giving exact directions on how to get from Point A to Point B?  These are examples of a Virtual Personal Assistant (VPA) being used.

The Virtual Personal Assistant, Defined

In technical terms, a Virtual Personal Assistant can be defined as follows:

“An intelligent virtual assistant is an engineered entity residing in software that interfaces with humans in a human way. This technology incorporates elements of interactive voice response and other modern artificial intelligence projects to deliver full-fledged ‘virtual identities’ that converse with users.” 

As you can see from the definition, there are two defining characteristics of a Virtual Private Assistant:

  • It is interactive with the end user, via voice or another type of messaging system.
  • It makes use of what is known as Artificial Intelligence, which is software that tries to mimic the thought process of the human brain.

One of the main catalysts for the explosion in the adoption and use of VPAs has been heavy investment from tech giants such as Microsoft, Oracle, Google, and Cisco Systems. VPAs are not simply an add-on as an optional service; they are now literally becoming tangible products which the end user expects and even demands to see on today’s Smartphones.

It is important to note that VPAs are designed to provide an “all encompassing” experience for the end user. In other words, VPAs are not designed to serve a single purpose or function; rather, they have innovated to provide a holistic experience for the end user. VPAs are designed to further evolve and grow with the Internet of Things, which will be covered in more detail in a future article.

The Virtual Personal Assistant Brands

Here are the major players in the VPA market today:

  • Siri: This VPA has been developed and implemented by Apple primarily for all iPhone devices. It has also recently been deployed on the Apple TV and Apple Watch as well. It can engage the end user in meaningful conversations with regards to helping the end user decide what the next course of action should be. Its greatest strength is that through its Artificial Intelligence algorithms, it can understand human language at a deep level. Its main drawback is that it cannot interoperate with other mobile apps on the iPhone. The replacement for Siri is known as “Viv”, and it is purported that it will be able to answer very complex questions which are posed by the end user.
  • Google Now: This VPA has been designed specifically for the Android Operating System and is meant to work primarily on Samsung wireless devices. It is deemed to be more sophisticated than Siri in terms of the robustness of the mathematical algorithms which are used. For example, it can harvest through your email inbox and your Web Browsing history to help the end user in more complex situations. It also keeps details about your personal information and data, and to a certain degree, it can even communicate with other mobile apps which also reside on Samsung wireless devices. In this regard, its higher level of sophistication is also deemed to be its greatest disadvantage, as many end users have complained that it violates their privacy rights.
  • Microsoft Cortana: This VPA has been created not only for the Windows 10 Operating System, but also for Windows Mobile devices. Interestingly enough, it can also function in the iOS and Android Operating Systems to some degree. Cortana has been designed to interact with the personal life of the end user, by setting up reminders and other types of calendar appointments, as well as answering general kinds of questions. Its greatest strengths are that it can interoperate quite effectively with other Windows-based mobile apps and can function with Skype as well. But its greatest weakness is that it is much less sophisticated than Siri or Google. Cortana is now the least used feature on the Windows 10 Operating System.

Security issues surrounding the Virtual Personal Assistant

Although the VPA is not a totally new concept, its huge demand and growth into the Smartphone is still being embraced. This means that assessing the security risks and threats which are posed to the different VPA applications are still being ascertained, and the magnitude of impact is still being quantified.

Despite the advantages VPAs can bring an individual end user, or even a business or corporation, there are serious security issues associated with them. Each wireless device has its own unique set of security risks, which will be covered in the next article in this series.


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Ravi Das is a Cybersecurity Consultant and Business Development Specialist. He also does Cybersecurity Consulting through his private practice, RaviDas Tech, Inc. He also possesses the Certified in Cybersecurity (CC) cert from the ISC2.

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