AI News, New Report Highlights Dangers of Hacked Factory Robots

New Report Highlights Dangers of Hacked Factory Robots

Earlier this month, computer-security firm Trend Micro, in collaboration with researchers at Polytechnic University of Milan, released a report titled, “Rogue Robots.” No, they weren’t writing about the threat of runaway artificial intelligence or Terminator-like “killer robots.” Rather, they were exploring how malevolent hackers might compromise various kinds of industrial robots, whose number is expected to reach2.6million units worldwide by 2019.

This would leave manufacturers open to blackmail—much like the victims of the recent WannaCry ransomware exploit—and the bad guys might demand, “Give us the bitcoin we’re asking for, and we’ll let you know which lot numbers have the faulty brake components.”

The report’s authors write, “[G]iven that most consumer-level routers nowadays come with randomized credentials, we believe that industry-grade devices should follow the same sane approach.” They also say that much of the software running these machines is not properly updated and patched to remove known software vulnerabilities.

Another eye-opener for me was learning that “[s]ome vendors implement safety features such as emergency stop (e-stop) buttons in software.” I certainly wouldn’t want to go anywhere near a powerful robot of any sort that didn’t have its big red button connected pretty darn directly to its power source.

Robot software

Robot software is the set of coded commands or instructions that tell a mechanical device and electronic system, known together as a robot, what tasks to perform.

While the vast majority of software is about manipulation of data and seeing the result on-screen, robot software is for the manipulation of objects or tools in the real world.

Fortunately, there are enough similarities between the different robots that it is possible to gain a broad-based understanding of robot programming without having to learn each manufacturer's proprietary language.[1] By using a Post processor and Off-line programming (robotics) software it is possible to handle brand-specific robot programming language from a universal programming language, such as Python (programming language).[2] Some examples of published robot programming languages are shown below.

Confirmation or allowed time is implicit in the above examples of CLOSEI and GRIP whereas the On vacuum command requires a time delay to ensure satisfactory suction.

scripting language is a high-level programming language that is used to control the software application, and is interpreted in real-time, or 'translated on the fly', instead of being compiled in advance.

Some scripting languages, such as RoboLogix, have data objects residing in registers, and the program flow represents the list of instructions, or instruction set, that is used to program the robot.

Programming languages are generally designed for building data structures and algorithms from scratch, while scripting languages are intended more for connecting, or “gluing”, components and instructions together.

Consequently, the scripting language instruction set is usually a streamlined list of program commands that are used to simplify the programming process and provide rapid application development.

The above code will move the headPan and headTilt motors in parallel to make the robot head follow the human face visible on the video taken by its camera whenever a face is seen by the robot.

Command-and-control software includes robot control GUIs for tele-operated robots, point-n-click command software for autonomous robots, and scheduling software for mobile robots in factories.

Thus, even if the software is free of programming errors, great care must be taken to make an industrial robot safe for human workers or human interaction, such as loading or unloading parts, clearing a part jam, or performing maintenance.


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List of Appendices Industrial robots are programmable multifunctional mechanical devices designed to move material, parts, tools, or specialized devices through variable programmed motions to perform a variety of tasks.

An industrial robot system includes not only industrial robots but also any devices and/or sensors required for the robot to perform its tasks as well as sequencing or monitoring communication interfaces.

They have many different functions such as material handling, assembly, arc welding, resistance welding, machine tool load and unload functions, painting, spraying, etc.

In this mode, a trained operator (programmer) typically uses a portable control device (a teach pendant) to teach a robot its task manually.

The restricted envelope of the robot can overlap a portion of the restricted envelope of other robots or work zones of other industrial machines and related equipment.

robot with two or more resident programs can find the current operating program erroneously calling another existing program with different operating parameters such as velocity, acceleration, or deceleration, or position within the robot's restricted envelope.

The operating changes with the process being performed or the breakdown of conveyors, clamping mechanisms, or process sensors could cause the robot to react in a different manner.

Undersea and space robots include in addition to the manipulator or tool that actually accomplishes a task, the vehicles or platforms that transport the tools to the site.

Automatic storage and retrieval systems are storage racks linked through automatically controlled conveyors and an automatic storage and retrieval machine or machines that ride on floor-mounted guide rails and power-driven wheels.

Automatic conveyor and shuttle systems are comprised of various types of conveying systems linked together with various shuttle mechanisms for the prime purpose of conveying materials or parts to prepositioned and predetermined locations automatically.

Teleoperators are robotic devices comprised of sensors and actuators for mobility and/or manipulation and are controlled remotely by a human operator.

Add industrial robots to the list of internet-connected devices vulnerable to hackers

If you thought getting your smart, internet-connected TV hacked was bad, wait until a production line of big robots gets hacked. 

The software that runs internet-connected industrial robots is outdated and vulnerable to hacking, according to a new report from cybersecurity firm Trend Micro and the Politecnico de Milano.

"The worst-case scenario, besides all the safety functions being overridden and killing factory workers outright, would be introducing subtle defects that will lead to failures down the road, things catching on fire, safety systems failing, loss of structural integrity, etc,"

Vice president of security at Radware Carl Herberger said in an email that "it is not impossible to think that a hacker could take control of this device and endanger worker safety by manipulating movements and actions."

"As connected devices have continued to become more widespread in both industrial and consumer spaces, it is clear that cybersecurity has widely been considered a secondary priority,"

"Plain and simple, if any device, ranging from an industrial robot to a security camera to a thermostat, is being connected to the internet, there needs to be cybersecurity protections put in place from the start,"

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