The Serious Security Problem Looming Over Robotics

Posted on August 24, 2018 by Spencer Radford
Spencer Radford

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According to Matt Simon, "They call it Herb2. It’s a dapper robot, wearing a bowtie even while it sits at home in its lab at the University of Washington. Its head is a camera, which it cranes up and down, taking in the view of a dimly lit corner where two computer monitors sit."

All perfectly normal stuff for a robot—until the machine speaks: “Hello from the hackers.”

“No one's really thinking about security on these types of things,” says computer scientist George Clark, who researches robotics and cybersecurity at the University of South Alabama.​ “Everyone's just putting things out there trying to rush to market, especially in a research type of environment. My worry is how this carries over to a more industrial or consumer market.”

Clear across the country at Brown University, researchers have compromised Herb2. They’ve showed how they can scan for internet-connected research robots in labs and take command—with the blessing of the robot's owners at the University of Washington, of course.

“We could read the camera, essentially spying,” says roboticist Stefanie Tellex. “We could see where its arms were and they were moving. There was a text-to-speak API so we could have the robot mysteriously talk to you.”

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