It was around 10pm last night when I heard a knock at my door. I could suddenly see the police lights flashing through the window as I got up to answer it. As I opened the door I began to get that sick feeling in my stomach like something had gone terribly wrong.
“Are you the owner of a rhenium based robot that anwers to the name of Kurt?”, the police officer asked. “Yes I am,” I answered. “Is there a problem?”
The police officer explained, “apparently your robot lost control and went on a rampage over by Valley Mills Mall.” “There are currently 15 dead and 35 serious injuries.” “We were able to disarm and neutralise it before it was able to do any additional damage.”
I was in shock. I knew what this meant but I just couldn’t believe it. I had been working with that robot for 5 years and never had any problems at all. “I don’t understand, how could this have happened?”
The officer continued, “we have reason to believe that your robot was hacked by a Libyan technology terrorist organization.” “Would you please come with us, we are placing you under arrest.”
He proceeded to read me my rights, “as an owner of a rhenium based singularity cast robot, you are under full responsiblitiy for any malfunctions that may cause due harm to any citizen of said municipalty and will be held in contempt for any damages that said robot should inflect. All security flaws and infiltrations are under your responsiblity should they happen to be breached.” I collapsed at their feet, my life was ruined.
It got me to wondering as I contemplated this scenario. What will robots actually be like in a world of advanced artificial intelligence? The race is on and some think we may imagine a similar scenario much sooner than later.
Robots are getting “smarter” and in some cases, with more human-like qualities such as facial recognition features, all of which is helping propel their popularity and usability. IDC estimates that in 2020, worldwide spending on robotics will be at $188 billion. Robots today are mostly in the manufacturing industry, but the consumer and healthcare sectors are up-and-coming in their robotics adoption, according to IDC.
Robots will soon be cleaning our homes, performing surgery and even building skyscrapers. But a top security firm claims that robots – including those currently on the market – could attack humans, burgle homes and wreak havoc on a factory floor. Researchers claim that robots could ‘poison family members and pets by mixing toxic substances with food or drinks’.
It all sounds a bit fartetched and belonging in an episode of the Xfiles yet new research is showing that robots and their control software are full of critical and painfully obvious security flaws that make them easily hackable and take control of a robot’s movements and operations for spying or causing physical damage – and even posing a danger to humans.
Even today, robots integrated with home automation systems could unlock and open doors and deactivate home alarms and even if robots are not integrated, they could still interact with voice assistants, such as Alexa or Siri, which integrate with home automation and alarm systems. “If the robot can talk or allow an attacker to talk through its speaker, it could tell voice-activated assistants to unlock doors and disable home security.
A number of organizations already make use of smart robotic technology and according to IOActive researcher’s Lucas Apa, “It’s very difficult to distinguish between a robot that’s been hacked” and one that’s not, he says. According to IOActive, once a robot has been hacked it is very difficult to restore the robot back to its original state. The customer would therefore be stuck with a hacked robot.
Dan Baily, founder and CEO of Lab Mouse Security says that a serious concern today is way in which a robot associates itself with its owner, and what happens when that owner hands it over to another owner or user. This could pose security and privacy risks. If you happen to have a robot with a previous owner it is unclear how you could be protected if the previous owner still had access to the robot.
The following list provides a number of way that a robot could be hacked and infiltrated:
- Microphones and cameras: Microphones and cameras can be used for spying and surveillance, enabling an attacker to listen to conversations, identify people through face recognition, and even record videos.
- Network connectivity: Some robot services are vulnerable to attack from home, corporate, industrial networks or the Internet.
- External services interaction: The robot owner’s social networks, application stores, and cloud systems could be exposed by a hacked robot.
- Remote control applications: Mobile applications or microcomputer boards can be used to send malicious commands to robots.
- Modular extensibility: When a robot allows installation of applications, it can also allow installation of custom malware.
- Safety features: Human safety protections and collision avoidance detection mechanisms can be disabled by hacking the robot’s control services, such as autonomous cars.
- Main software: When a robot’s firmware integrity is not verified, it is possible to replace the robot’s core software and change its behavior in a malicious way by installing malware or ransomware.
- Autonomous robots: A hacked autonomous robot can move around as long as its battery continues to provide power.
- Known operating systems: Many robots use the same operating systems as computers, many of the same attacks and vulnerabilities in those operating systems apply to the robots as well.
- Network advertisement: It is common for robots to advertise their presence on a network using known discovery protocols.
- Fast installation/deployment: Many vendors do not highlight the importance of changing the administrator’s password in their documentation, a user may not change it during fast deployment. This means that any services protected by this password can be hacked easily.
- Backups: Configuration files and other information may be backed up on the robot vendor’s cloud or the administrator’s computer.
- Connection ports everywhere: Physical connectivity ports lacking restriction or protection, could allow anyone to connect external devices to the robots.
Ray Kurzweil, the famed American author, computer scientist, inventor and futurist, predicts that by 2045 computers will be a billion times more powerful than all of the human brains on Earth. Bill Gates calls him “the best person I know at predicting the future of artificial intelligence.”
Kurzweil believes that once the computers can read their own instructions, well… gaining domination over the rest of the universe will surely be easy pickings. One can imagine what this will mean for the development of robots. However, he doesn’t seem to worry about reprecussions of his own forecasts or being enslaved by a master robot race. He believes technology will make us better, smarter, and fitter, unless of course a robot of his own making liquidates him first!