IoT: A World-size Robot Out of Control

March 7, 2017 | 08:00
Image by Allie Brosh
Image by Allie Brosh
Now that the novelty of computers communicating with each other is wearing off, we want to Connect All The Things. From cars, to fridges, to homes, everything should have computer processing power and an IP-address to be in touch with the rest of the world. And while we’re still trying to figure out why we need a fridge with its own Twitter account, the Internet of Things is rapidly expanding.

The problem with the expansion of the IoT is security. Or rather the lack thereof. Every computer system is vulnerable to attack. The difference between, say, a laptop and an IoT device is that the latter physically interacts with the world. Having an IoT device compromised could therefore be far more dangerous. A hacked laptop is a big problem because someone could steal your data. A hacked car is potentially lethal because somebody could disable your brakes.

Case in point is a recent security assessment of a number of popular robots currently on the market. Researchers from security consultancy IOActive Labs found almost 50 security vulnerabilities in the robotic systems they tested. An attacker could exploit those to turn the robot against its owner. The researchers provide a long list of possible threats. These include using the robot’s sensors to spy on its environment, switching off safety protections & collision avoidance, and taking over the control mechanism to physically hurt the owner.

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The IOActive team warns: ‘We’re already experiencing some of the consequences of substantial cybersecurity problems with IoT devices that are impacting the Internet, companies and commerce, and individual consumers alike. Cybersecurity problems in robots could have a much greater impact. When you think of robots as computers with arms, legs, or wheels, they become kinetic IoT devices that, if hacked, can pose new serious threats we have never encountered before.’
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