The Hutch Report

Data – The New Biological Nerve Gas

By | Science, Technology

Data is fast becoming the new weapon of choice. Those who dominate data will dominate power because power comes from insight into other nation’s activities. Harness that insight and you become more powerful than any other adversary. 

One of the ways of harnessing  that insight is through powerful computational power, such as Quantum Computers (see our special report on Quantum Computers here). These computers will have the ability to break codes and passwords in seconds. The US, China and Russia all know this, which is why they are racing to create the most powerful computers possible as well as the artificial intelligent algorithms that will be run by those computers.  

Chinese scientists are currently developing a next-generation supercomputer capable of performing 1 quintillion (a billion times a billion) calculations per second, which, if successful, will further enhance China’s leading position in the field. Tianjin’s National Supercomputer Center is working with the National University of Defence Technology in Changsha, Hunan province, to develop the super scale computer. Meng Xiangfei, assistant director of the center, says the aim is to make the computer by 2020. All the hardware and software is to be developed by Chinese engineers.

Not to be outdone by the Chinese, the US recently unveiled “Summit.” According to Dave Turek, vice president of high-performance computing and cognitive systems at IBM Summit is “the most powerful, smartest supercomputer in the world,”. It will crunch through roughly 200 quadrillion mathematical calculations each second, a speed called 200 petaflops. That as fast as each of the planet’s 7.6 billion people doing 26 million calculations per second on a handheld calculator. 

The marketplace is beginning to recognize that AI and high-performance computing are not separate domains but things that need be viewed as integrated. 

“Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia, but for all humankind,” explained Putin. “It comes with colossal opportunities, but also threats that are difficult to predict. Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.”

In that same speech, Putin also mentioned that he would not like to see anyone “monopolize” the field. “If we become leaders in this area, we will share this know-how with entire world, the same way we share our nuclear technologies today,” he told students from across Russia via satellite link-up, speaking from the Yaroslavl region.

China realized the power of data long ago. It is common knowledge, especially by those who have travelled to China, that China only allows internet sites with which they control the data flow. As of May 2018, more than 8,000 domain names were blocked in mainland China under the country’s Internet censorship policy, which prevents users from accessing proscribed websites in the country. That includes Facebook, Google, Gmail, Twitter, Instagram , etc., pretty much the top 500 websites that are not Chinese. 

The Hutch ReportThe US has taken advantage of their unique position of being home to many of the most innovative technologies over the years.  It has enabled them to harness vast amounts of data on all other countries where these US companies reside (except China of course). We know that the government has sanctioned companies such as Apple, Facebook or Twitter to hand over data on their users in a number of occasions. We also know from the Edward Snowden revelations that the NSA has developed a vast network of data sources. In spite of this leadership roll, the US position is being eroded quickly as the others play catch up. 

When it comes to applying facial recognition in China, the country seems to be farther ahead than any other. The Shanghai metro is developing facial recognition systems that will be placed at the entrance of each subway to verify the identity of commuters. A new police car can now do a 360-degree scan to identify faces at up to 60 yards away while traveling at 75 miles per hour. Railway police use facial-recognition eye ware to identify someone in just 100 milliseconds from a database of 10,000 individuals. Unmanned convenience stores use facial recognition for payments, while Kentucky Fried Chicken uses “smile-to-pay” technology. China’s answer to Airbnb, Xiaozhu, will soon use facial recognition for check-ins. Chinese exam authorities are using facial recognition to catch cheaters for competitive college entrance exams. So not only have they compiled a mass of data on their population, that data is now being made use of in powerful tools.

One of the Chinese companies leading the pack is SenseTime, founded in 2014. Surveillance makes up a third of SenseTime’s business. Their clients are local governments throughout China. 

SenseTime’s clients also include private security firms and in fact, it supplies the core technology to seven of China’s 10 largest security firms in addition to financial services companies, banks, mobile operators and the smartphone industry. They have become China’s largest unicorn – defined as a startup worth $1 billion or more – with a valuation of more than $3 billion.

Megvii is the countries second largest AI company. ”The government is pushing the need for this technology from the top, so companies don’t have big obstacles in making it happen,” says vice president Xie Yinan. “In America, people are too busy discussing how they should use it.” At the same time, China’s State Council, has already laid out goals to build an artificial intelligence industry worth nearly $150 billion by 2030. China has consistently been ahead of the curve in terms of utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) for surveillance. The country’s CCTV system tracked down a BBC reporter in just seven minutes during a demonstration in 2017.

As technology advances, these governments and private companies will continue to compile data on each other and every individual they can in order to gain the upper hand on their adversaries.  We recently learned that Cambridge Analytica had access to Facebook data, however they apparently only had access to Facebook likes. From this one input, their artificial intelligence programs were still able to design a profile of the emotional state of the users. Imagine what they will be able to accomplish with data coming from Amazon Echo (their data has already been subpoenaed in a murder trial to help catch a criminal), Google Home, Siri, iBeacons in thousands of retail outlets, cameras on the streets, Fitbits , etc., in addition to all those free websites, such as  Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter or Instagram. 

Remember, if the product is free, then you are the product.

The Hutch Report

We have seen the future and it is DNA storage!

By | Science, Technology

Technology advancements in the last 10 years alone have made our world more connected than it has ever been, providing people a simpler and faster means of documenting and sharing memories. Millions of people are taking pictures, recording movies or producing reports and messages on a daily basis. However, our digitally connected world is now creating information at an unprecedented rate. Each year roughly 16 zettabytes are being produced (one zettabyte = one billion terabytes). The research group IDC estimated that by 2025 we will be producing over 160 zettabytes a year.

Although all this data may be seen as a treasure trove for researchers, advertisers or data analysts, we are finding that current storage technologies are not able to keep up. This torrent of information may soon outstrip the ability of hard drives to capture it. Since we’re not going to stop taking pictures and recording movies, we need to develop new ways to store them.

Our daily production of photos, documents, messages and movies are not the only sources of data. Advancements in the world of biotechnology and genomics in particular promise to be producing vast amounts of data.

It has been 18 years since the first draft of the human genome sequence in 2000. However, the draft human genome sequence was merely a first step. A deeper understanding requires many more sequenced genomes, as well as cheaper and faster sequencing methods. In order to achieve this we need vast amounts of computing power and storage. According to a report published in the journal PLoS Biology, it is estimated that by 2025, between 100 million and 2 billion human genomes could have been sequenced. If we add the errors incurred in sequencing and preliminary analysis, the number of data that must be stored for a single genome become 30 times larger than the size of the genome itself. The data-storage demands for this alone are estimated to be as much as 2-40 exabytes (1 exabyte is 1018 bytes). Biologists and computer scientists are now worried that their discipline is not geared up to cope with the coming genomics data flood.

Curiously the problem of the masses of data that can be extracted from the human genome may in fact provide a solution for storage needs. In the 1970s Frederick Sanger of the Medical Research Council’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology and his colleagues published a paper on a particular genome and indicated that it may contain a message from aliens. The thesis was not taken very seriously but the possibility was enough to intrigue many scientists, in particular one Harvard biologist named George Church. Church began to wonder if one could encode messages into biological DNA.

Along with two Harvard colleagues, George Church translated an HTML draft of a 50,000-word book on synthetic biology into binary code and converted it to a DNA sequence. DNA molecules are long sequences of smaller molecules, called nucleotides — adenine, cytosine, thymine and guanine, usually designated as A, C, T and G. Rather than creating sequences of 0s and 1s, as in electronic media, DNA storage uses sequences of the nucleotides. Church and his team coded 0s as A or C and 1s as G or T—and “wrote” this sequence with an ink-jet DNA printer onto a microchip as a series of DNA fragments.

To store a picture, for example, you would start with its encoding as a digital file, like a JPEG. That file is, in essence, a long string of 0s and 1s. Imagine the first eight bits of the file are 01111000; they are broken into pairs – 01 11 10 00 – which correspond to C-G-T-A. That’s the order in which you join the nucleotides to form a DNA strand.

Church and his team were successful in encoding around 650kb of data and retrieving it, which led the team to predict a storage potential for their method of more than 700 terabytes per cubic millimetre.  This was by far the largest volume of data ever artificially encoded in DNA. It illustrated a data density for DNA that was several orders of magnitude greater than that of state-of-the-art storage media. It is believed that a single gram could hold roughly a zettabyte of data. A few kilograms of DNA could theoretically store all of humanity’s data.

There are still numerous challenges to overcome, such as storing (the act of storing data in DNA is a lot easier than getting it back out), proper retrieval and archiving. DNA is slow and expensive to make as it requires pinpoint precision to ensure every single molecule is coded accurately. So, at the moment, mass production is not an option, however as DNA synthesis continues to improve, scientists believe that it can one day become a realistic permanent storage device for all our data.

Everybody was Quantum fighting, those computers were fast as lightning ….

By | Science, Technology

Quantum computing is a critical new arms race and the reasons are quite clear. It will render existing cyber security methods useless. So far China is leading the pack in terms of efforts and investments in quantum computing. There is little evidence that the US government is concerned about this based on comparative amounts of spending budgeted for this area.

The Hutch Report has published a well written PDF that describes the technology in layman’s terms and objectively presents the opportunities and threats in the Quantum Computing race. This report can be downloaded for free here.

Here is an excerpt:

The ability of a quantum computer to crack pretty much all of the current encryption systems, in the time that it takes you to read this sentence, would make the global financial system highly vulnerable to attack, not to mention state security. In addition to racing to build stable and scalable quantum computers a critical challenge of this arms race includes developing and deploying cyber security and quantum-resistant encryption.

U.S. officials and scientists have already voiced their concerns stating that the country that holds quantum supremacy will have an edge in everything from business to national security to the military. The Trump administration’s intention to reduce the federal budget with cuts to scientific projects has only stoked that worry.

Although the U.S. currently remains at the forefront of quantum information science, their lead is slipping quickly as other nations step up efforts to get there first. China holds the top two positions in the Top 500 list of the world’s fastest computers and the Chinese understand very well the potential power that quantum computing promises. For this reason they have allocated extensive funding towards the goal of producing a functional quantum computer before anyone else. On 37 hectares (nearly 4 million square feet) in Hefei, Anhui Province, China is building a $10 billion research center for quantum applications. This news comes on the heels of the world’s first video call made via quantum-encrypted communications and the completion of a quantum encrypted fiber optic trunk cable.

In comparison, the European Union is committed to invest $1 Billion over the next 10 years into their quantum computing projects while the U.S. government currently allocates about $200 million per year to quantum research (a recent congressional report noted that inconsistent funding has slowed progress). And many of the projects vying for grant money appear to be thinly veiled shams set-up as resellers or consulting firms with not much behind them.

According to an article in the National Review, “In 2016, 4.2 billion computerized records in the United States were compromised, a staggering 421 percent increase from the prior year. What’s more, foreign countries are stealing encrypted U.S. data and storing it because they know that in roughly a decade, quantum computers will be able to get around the encryption.”

The Hutch Report

It’s got the moves like Jetson!

By | Science, Startups, Technology

It all starts with a vision and that comes from imagination. The vision of flight is nothing new as we now have thousands of flights transporting millions of passengers daily. However, in spite of that there has always been the dream of getting into your car and taking off in flight.

This idea has continuously popped back into our imagination over the years from as far back as there have been cars. We have seen memorable examples over the years from George Jetson transporting his family in his flying car to the depiction of the flying car from Back to the Future. We have seen them in the Blade Runner, The Fifth Element, Total Recall, Reboot, Spaceballs, Batman Beyond, and Star Wars. So why have they not become reality?

In fact, they are not that difficult to manufacture. We already have the expertise.  In trying to imagine the world of flying cars, the technology is probably the easiest part to predict. The hardest part is how to balance regulations, and all the potential dangers that could come with thousands of cars flying up above a city.

This is not stopping companies from moving forward though. The Hutch Report visited the Geneva Car Show this year to discover what this new economy is producing in the way of cars for the future.

In addition, to the regular new design launches of combustible engine cars, there was an obvious move towards all electric vehicles as well as self-driving vehicles. But surprise, surprise, this year saw the unveiling of two flying vehicles, one which is ready to be commercialized.

The Hutch ReportThe Pal-V Liberty models on the market will be the limited Pioneer Edition. The Pioneer Edition marks the launch of the flying car era. Worldwide, only 90 vehicles of this edition will be sold. After the delivery of the Pioneer Edition models, PAL-V will start the delivery of the PAL-V Liberty Sports models. The PAL-V Liberty Pioneer Edition will be the very first certified commercial flying car ever delivered, a world premier.

The Hutch ReportIt can currently be purchased for € 499.000.00 ($615,000.00). It will cost € 25,000.00 to reserve a PAL-V Liberty Pioneer Edition. The contract is transferable within the country of registration and you have to expect 9 months before scheduled delivery. There are 10 lessons near to your home or place of work and the fee is a non-refundable deposit. Anybody purchasing one of these flying cars will of course be required to get a pilot’s licence to fly one.

Italdesign and Airbus had their world premiered of the Pop.Up, the first modular, fully electric, zero emission concept vehicle system designed to relieve traffic congestion in crowded megacities. The Pop.Up is a modular system for multi-modal transportation that makes full use of both ground and airspace.

It is presented as a system concept consisting of three layers: an Artificial Intelligence platform that, based on its user knowledge, offers alternative usage scenarios; a vehicle shaped as a passenger capsule designed to be coupled with two different and independent electric propelled modules, the ground module and the air module. Other public means of transportation (e.g. trains or hyperloops) could also integrate the Pop.Up capsule; and an interface module that dialogues with users in a virtual environment.

It combines a small two seater ground vehicle with a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) air vehicle, thus bridging the automotive and aerospace domains.

At the heart of the concept is a capsule: designed to accommodate passengers. The capsule transforms itself into a city car by simply coupling to the ground module, which features a carbon-fibre chassis and is battery powered. For long journeys with traffic congestion, the capsule disconnects from the ground module and is carried by a 5 by 4.4 metre air module propelled by eight counter-rotating rotors. In this configuration, it becomes a urban self-piloted air vehicle. Once passengers reach their destination, the air and ground modules with the capsule autonomously return to dedicated recharge stations to wait for their next customers.

The financing, ingenuity and expertise is now obviously available to produce these vehicles on a much larger scale. As far as demand goes, we don’t think that there will be any lack of interest as more than a few consumers would jump at the chance to escape the painful commute on a congested highway. How to manage the infrastructure is the biggest problem and that usually only becomes an issue once the problems begin to accumulate. As an example, we have a greater interest in electric cars. There are more and more of them arriving on the market yet we lack the infrastructure to charge these vehicles. We spoke with a Tesla owner at the car show that explained our he had to plan his trip from the Netherlands to Geneva very carefully in order to have the charge necessary to reach his destination. “I still have about 100km of charge left with which to find a charging station.”

We have millions of cars creating more and more traffic congestion. We have problems of substance abuse behind the wheel that causes potential harm to others. We still have manufacturing faults that find their way into the market, putting vehicle owners in potential danger. Of all the traffic fatalities in the past few years, “Ninety-four percent were the result of human driving error,” said Damon Porter, director of state government affairs at the Association of Global Automakers.

It is a nice dream to imagine being able to get into your car, take off above the crowds and get to your destination in comfort and style in no time at all, but reality may have other plans.

The Hutch Report

Blackout! – The Danger of Solar Wind Disruption

By | Science, Technology

It feels like everyday we are becoming more and more dependent on our computers, smartphones, and tablets. We now use them to read the news, send messages, call people, watch TV, get directions, make reservations, pay for things, take pictures, edit pictures, and read books. We use them as alarm clocks, weather stations, instrument tuners, metronomes, flashlights, blood pressure monitors, pedometersand the list goes on and on and on.

So what happens if it all stops?

Lights out!

On March 13, 1989, the entire province of Quebec, Canada suffered an electrical power blackout. Although hundreds of blackouts occur in some part of North America every year, the Quebec Blackout was different, because this one was caused by a solar storm!

The Quebec Blackout was by no means a local event. Some of the U.S. electrical utilities experienced their own problems that required attention. New York Power lost 150 megawatts the moment the Quebec power grid went down. The New England Power Pool lost 1,410 megawatts at about the same time. Service to 96 electrical utilities in New England was interrupted while other reserves of electrical power were brought online. Fortunately the U.S. had the power to spare at the time, but it was just enough. Across the United States from coast to coast, over 200 power grid problems erupted within minutes of the start of the March 13 storm but luckily none of these caused a blackout.

So what are these solar storms that can cause so much disruption to our electrical infrastructure on earth? There are many kinds of eruptions that occur on the sun’s surface. One is known as a coronal mass ejection (CME). It is a gigantic explosion of energy. A solar flare is also produced from an explosion of energy from the sun although it does differ from the CME. The difference lies in what they emit during the explosion. They also look and travel differently, and they have different effects near planets. The two phenomena do sometimes occur at the same time and the strongest flares are almost always correlated with coronal mass ejections.

Both eruptions are created when the motion of the sun’s interior contorts its own magnetic fields. Similar to the sudden release of a twisted rubber band, the magnetic fields explosively realign, driving vast amounts of energy into space. This phenomenon can create a sudden flash of light, also known as a solar flare. These flares can last minutes to hours and they contain tremendous amounts of energy. Traveling at the speed of light, it takes eight minutes for the light from a solar flare to reach Earth. Some of the energy released in the flare also accelerates very high energy particles that can reach Earth in tens of minutes.

When a CME arrives at Earth, its magnetic field interacts with that of our planet’s and disturbs the ionosphere — the layer of the atmosphere through which radio signals travel. Thousands of satellites also drift through the ionosphere, so a serious CME could disrupt the world’s entire telecommunications infrastructure.

On September 1-2, 1859 the earth experienced a massive solar storm, known as the Carrington Event. It was a powerful geomagnetic solar storm that hit the Earth’s magnetosphere and induced one of the largest geomagnetic storms on record. Auroras were seen around the world. At the time, electricity was used mostly to power telegraph systems, which failed all over Europe and North America, and in some cases gave telegraph operators electric shocks. Because the electrical infrastructure in place at the time was miniscule in comparison to what we have to day, the damage was limited in terms of the disruption it caused to people’s daily lives.

The Quebec incident in 1989, in comparison to the Carrington Event was considered a relatively minor CME. However, it was strong enough to shut down power for 6 million people in Canada. It is believed that a stronger geomagnetic storm could shroud about 130 million in darkness, possibly for months or years.

The San Francisco Treat

On April 22, 2017, a massive power outage created chaos in San Francisco for most of the work day. The outage was triggered by a fire in a PG&E Corp. utility substation and caused disruption toSan Francisco’s normally bustling financial district, home to banks and technology companies.

Traffic signals were knocked out, paralyzing businesses and halting the city’s famed cable cars. Office workers were unable to access elevators or use their keycards. Wells Fargo & Co closed 13 bank branches and four office buildings, while the New York Stock Exchange said its ARCA options trading floor in San Francisco was briefly unavailable. Employees in Goldman Sachs’ financial district office were sent home. For many others, there was little to do but wait.

Not in full flight!

On July 21, 2016, Southwest Airlines canceled 1,150 flights. The trouble stemmed from a “system outage,” and the ground stop lasted for just over an hour.

On August 8, 2016, Delta Air Lines flights were grounded for at least six hours by a global computer system outage, causing large-scale cancellations and stranding hundreds of thousands of passengers. Delta, the world’s second largest airline, said the problem was a power outage at its Atlanta hub. The local electric utility, Georgia Power, said the problem was “a failure overnight in a piece of equipment known as switchgear” that affected only Delta.

On May 27 of this year, thousands of British Airways customers had their flights cancelled or delayed after a worldwide computer failure. Screens went blank at British Airways check-in desks across the globe as the company’s computerised passenger and baggage handling system failed. Apparently, a problem within the hub of their system, based near Heathrow, had led to a power outage. British Airways has a very large IT infrastructure with over 500 data cabinets spread across six halls in two different sites near its Heathrow HQ.

It was later determined that the root cause of the London flight-grounding IT systems was “a power supply issue”. The airline cancelled all flights from London’s Heathrow and Gatwick amid what BAconfirmed to be a “global IT system failure”.

Down and out Bankers

On 9 June, 2012, the worst banking meltdown to date hit millions of customers of the Royal Bank of Scotland, NatWest and Ulster Bank, locking them out of their accounts for days, and in the case of Ulster Bank customers, for weeks. The meltdown hit not only customers of the three brands owned by the RBS Group, but also people who were expecting salary payments from businesses that held accounts with the bank and other transfers between banks. The incident is believed to have cost the bank more than £100m.

On August 04, 2012, the U.S. Bancorp experienced a two-hour outage that affected its 8,000 automatic teller machines across the nation. The owner of the Minneapolis-based U.S. Bank said that a power failure in Oregon was to blame. The U.S. Bank has more than 3,000 bank offices in 25 states. It’s the fifth-largest commercial bank in the U.S., with $353 billion in assets.

On January 26,  2014, Lloyds Bank and TSB experienced a technological meltdown, which led to many people being unable to withdraw money or use their cards. Lloyds said the problem was affecting debit cards and its internet banking service but not credit cards, while TSB said some customers were unable to use debit cards or withdraw money from ATMs.

On June 17, 2015, RBS suffered another IT incident where it admitted that it could take days for customers to receive 600,000 payments that failed to enter accounts overnight.

Hack Attack

On October 21, 2016, Dyn, a company that controls much of the internet’s domain name system (DNS) infrastructure, had their servers hacked. They remained under sustained assault for most of the day, bringing down sites including Twitter, the Guardian, Netflix, Reddit, CNN and many others in Europe and the US. The cause of the outage was a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, in which a network of computers infected with special malware, known as a “botnet,” are coordinated into bombarding a server with traffic until it collapses under the strain.

On November 24, 2014, a cyberattack was launched on Sony Pictures. Employees logging on to its network were met with the sound of gunfire and scrolling threats. The attack wiped out half of Sony’s global network. It erased everything stored on 3,262 of the company’s 6,797 personal computers and 837 of its 1,555 servers. To make sure nothing could be recovered, the attackers configured a special deleting algorithm that overwrote the data seven different ways. When that was done, the code zapped each computer’s startup software, rendering the machines brain-dead.

We are at risk of coronal mass ejections taking down our electrical grids and computer infrastructures.

We are at risk of power outages knocking out computer systems leading to mass disruptions in numerous areas of our lives, which could be caused by natural disaster or human error.

We are at risk of foreign or domestic cyber attacks which could take down our systems and steal our identification.

So, the question is, as much as we enjoy our technological advances and gadgets that are supposed to be making our lives more productive and easier, are we being irresponsible by placing ourselves at the mercy of their flawless continued functionality?

The Hutch ReportThink about that next time you are stranded because you have had your flight cancelled, be rendered helpless by the theft of your identification and medical records, left penniless because you can’t access your savings or just left in the dark because the application that controls the lighting in your internet of things home has been rendered useless.

Look on the bright side, the last example can be rectified by some matches and a good old candle. It has been functioning since the dawn of man.

The Hutch Report

Artificial Intelligence Gone Mad

By | Law, Science, Technology

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Network connectivity: Some robot services are vulnerable to attack from home, corporate, industrial networks or the Internet.
  3. External services interaction: The robot owner’s social networks, application stores, and cloud systems could be exposed by a hacked robot.
  4. Remote control applications: Mobile applications or microcomputer boards can be used to send malicious commands to robots.
  5. Modular extensibility: When a robot allows installation of applications, it can also allow installation of custom malware.
  6. Safety features: Human safety protections and collision avoidance detection mechanisms can be disabled by hacking the robot’s control services, such as autonomous cars.
  7. 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.
  8. Autonomous robots: A hacked autonomous robot can move around as long as its battery continues to provide power.
  9. 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.
  10. Network advertisement: It is common for robots to advertise their presence on a network using known discovery protocols.
  11. 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.
  12. Backups: Configuration files and other information may be backed up on the robot vendor’s cloud or the administrator’s computer.
  13. 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!