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Next-Generation Tele-Operated Robots Can Be Hacked

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If you feel that your car’s remote-controlled security system is full-proof, you may be wrong as a team of engineers has shown how easily a malicious attack could hijack remotely-controlled operations in the future.A team of engineers from the University of Washington demonstrated that next generation tele-operated robots using non-private networks can be easily disrupted or derailed by common forms of cyber-attacks.

Incorporating security measures to foil those attacks will be critical to their safe adoption and use.

“We want to make the next generation of telerobots resilient to some of the threats we’ve detected without putting an operator or patient or any other person in the physical world in danger,” said lead author Tamara Bonaci, a University of Washington doctoral candidate in electrical engineering.

The team mounted common types of cyber-attacks as study participants used a tele-operated surgical robot to move rubber blocks between pegs on a pegboard.

During denial-of-service attacks, in which the attacking machine flooded the system with useless data, the robots became jerky and harder to use.

With a single packet of bad data, for instance, the team was able to maliciously trigger the robot’s emergency stop mechanism, rendering it useless.

“If there’s been a disaster, the network has probably been damaged too. So you might have to fly a drone and put a router on it and send signals up to it,” said Howard Chizeck, UW professor of electrical engineering.

Encrypting data packets that flow between the robot and human operator would help prevent certain types of cyber-attacks.

The study was presented at the 6th ACM/IEEE International Conference on Cyber-Physical Systems held in Seattle, US.

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