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Popular Robots Have Been Hacked to Potentially Cause Physical Harm


Security firm IOActive has shown that several industrial and consumer robots can be hacked and used as weapons or spying devices.

Perhaps most dangerous is its hack of robot arms made by Universal Robots, which are designed for use alongside humans in industrial settings. The team of researchers found that it could easily overwrite safety files tucked inside the robot arm’s operating system, allowing it to remove limits on speed of movement and, more important, adjust how sensitive its infrared sensors are to nearby objects. IOActive tells Bloomberg the robots can deliver force that "is more than sufficient to cause a skull fracture."

Elsewhere, the firm was able to gain full control over consumer robots including UBTech’s Alpha2 and Softbank’s NAO by installing its own malicious software on the devices. That allowed it to turn Alpha 2 into the screwdriver-wielding psychopath seen in the GIF above. The team also found that it could take control of the cameras and microphone aboard these consumer robots, effectively turning them into listening posts that could spy on their owners.

All the attacks are worrying, and they suggest that the robot makers aren’t taking security as seriously as they should. Speaking to Wired, UBTech and Softbank both downplayed the findings, while Universal Robots said that it would "monitor closely the potential vulnerability described and potential countermeasures." One hopes they'll be in place before a real hacker performs a similar attack in anger.