Home Security Rogue robots wreaking havoc

Rogue robots wreaking havoc

New research from Trend Micro claims that the plethora of industrial robots poses a real enhanced security threat – not only in subtly sabotaging work processes and products but in the possibility of ransomware attacks and physical harm to humans.

The research puts the spotlight on the security and vulnerability of industrial robots. The Industry 4.0 revolution calls for industrial robots to increase their complexity and interconnectedness exposing them as part of the attacker surface.

In Trend Micro’s analysis, researchers discovered different ways that make industrial robots vulnerable – from the usage of outdated software and weak authentication, to exposure due to the usage of public IPs.

Using the findings, it demonstrated how remote attackers can alter or introduce minor defects in the manufactured product, physically damage the robot, steal industry secrets, or injure humans.

Trend Micro says that due to architectural commonalities of most modern industrial robots, the existence of strict IEEE standards, and common software base, industrial robots are a practical target for hackers. It determined five classes of attacks are possible once an attacker is able to exploit any of the weaknesses found.

These classes include:

  • Altering the controller’s parameter. Attacker alter the control system so the robot moves unexpectedly or inaccurately, at the attacker’s will.
  • Tampering with calibration parameters. The attacker changes the calibration to make the robot move unexpectedly or inaccurately.
  • Tampering with the production logic. The attacker manipulates the program executed by the robot to introduce defects in the workpiece.
  • Altering the user-perceived robot state. The attacker manipulates the status information so the operator is not aware of the true status of the robot.
  • Altering the robot state. The attacker manipulates the true robot status so the operator loses control or can get injured.

While all this sounds a little like Asimov’s i-Robot, Trend Micro was able to exploit all five weaknesses. For example, a robot could be altered to produce faulty goods, and ransom demands follow to identify those robots or goods. Or a robot could even kill someone.

Trend Micro says industrial robot standards must consider cyber security threats the same way ICS and automotive sector standards have evolved to mitigate them. Network defenders must fully understand the unique position that industrial robots have in terms of securing them.

Robots have a very long lifetime, which means vendors must be able to provide security updates to all currently deployed versions, which they may not always be able to do. Furthermore, customers may be worried by downtimes or potential regressions carried by software updates and thus refrain from timely patching their systems.

The technical paper is here.


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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!