Stabbing fruits to breaking your skull: robot bugs make hacking too easy

A Team of Hackers Shows How Frighteningly Easy It Is To Hack Home Robots

Cybersecurity firm IOActive, based in Seattle, has revealed just how "dangerously easy" it is to hack several popular robots (both industrial and consumer), turning them into effective spy-wear or unsafe weapons.

On Tuesday, the security team at IOActive revealed security flaws in robotic products developed by Universal Robots, the UR3, UR5, and UR10.

The release by the two researchers detailed the specific vulnerabilities they found, including one case where many of those weak points were combined to hijack a factory robot, making it lurch about dangerously. The discovery is especially worrying given the robots are created to work alongside humans.

"These robots don't use bullets or explosives, but microphones, cameras, arms and legs".

These extensive abilities can make unsafe or repetitive manufacturing tasks easier to bear in industrial settings, but unless they are controlled, they could also be an avenue for covert surveillance or perhaps even cause destruction and injury. "Anyone within the same network can interact with the robot and issue commands".

Universal Robots is yet to patch the problems, reported in January this year, while Rethink Robotics appears to have smoothed over the worst of the vulnerabilities.

"Our research shows proof that even non-military robots could be weaponized to cause harm", Apa said in an interview. "I truly hope this blog entry moves the collaborative industry forward so we can safely enjoy this and future generations of robots".


They usually include certain safety and collision detection technologies to prevent possible injury from use of the products but an experiment has proven that these robots can be hacked remotely and used to injure humans around them. While one robot may not be such an issue, in an industrial setting with many of these robots working together with humans, such a scene could wreak havoc and cause widespread harm.

This is particularly worrying, IOActive said, because these machines are large enough and have enough power that "even running at low speeds, their force is more than sufficient to cause a skull fracture".

The company also released a really disturbing video of one of the smaller domestic robots available, having been hacked, laughing crazily while stabbing a tomato with a screw driver. "What are we waiting for?"

The researchers also said Alpha 1S, the robot's Android app, does not verify a cryptographic signature when downloading an update, potentially allowing for a malicious actor to carry out a "man-in-the-middle" attack and drop malware to infect the device.

The researchers demonstrated their ability to take control over an Alpha 2 robot, a home assistant device manufactured by UBTECH, simply by sending a command over Bluetooth.

Universal Robots spokesman Thomas Stensbol said the company was aware of IOActive's report.

At the time of writing the other companies featured in the report did not respond to Sky's request for comment.

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