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Hackers Can Use Your Robot to Cause You Harm

Home robots sold today are designed with very little security in mind

1 min read
Hackers Can Use Your Robot to Cause You Harm

How common everyday robots can be hacked, the many negative ways in which they can harm us, and how the problem will only get worse—these and other issues are detailed in a new paper.

Imagine purchasing a new Rovio robot. This wheeled mobile robot sports a webcam and can be accessed easily through the internet. Often these and other robots are bought as toys, used by the owners to check on their home during a vacation, perhaps for teleconferencing, or to check on an elderly loved one.

Now imagine a malevolent hacker from Russia or China, or your next door neighbor, or a even stalker gaining access to this robot. Now they have free access to your home, roving about checking to see if the owner is home, spying on your children, or perhaps taking embarrassing video of you or your family. What if the robot is commanded to break items in your home, hide your keys, or drive under the feet of granny to harm her? Millions of these robots have been sold, meaning they are quite ubiquitous and therefore prime targets of malicious hackers.

Researchers at the University of Washington recently studied the RoboSapien V2, the Rovio, and the Spykee and found quite a few easily exploitable security flaws. Although today's robots are relatively harmless and limited, it points out how security features are generally lacking in the design. Understandable, considering how cost is very much a key factor for a robot succeeding in the market place. Yet robots in the future will be stronger, more capable, and unfortunately perhaps even more exploitable.

Security was an afterthought for the design of the internet. It doesn't need to be for the coming robot revolution.

You can find a quick summary of the findings here:

https://www.cs.washington.edu/research/security/robots/

And more details in the paper, "A Spotlight on Security and Privacy Risks with Future Household Robots: Attacks and Lessons" [PDF]:

http://www.cs.washington.edu/homes/tdenning/files/papers/ubicomp_robots_authors_copy.pdf

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
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A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof
DarkGray

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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